[PHOTO AT LEFT - AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 08: Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the 17th green with caddie Steve Williams during the first round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia.]

MANILA, APRIL 9, 2010 (STAR) THE FREEMAN - FULL POINT By Nimrod NL Quiones - Tiger Woods is back this week as he sees action in the Masters and the true test of his ability as a golfer is about to come.

Yes, he has a string of Majors and a long list of tournament victories aside from millions of dollars in prize money and endorsement deals, but the game is not only physical, it is also hugely mental.

How many times have you fallen into the water when the fairway or the green looks so big that you canít miss it? How many times have you hit a tree that you have been trying so hard to avoid?

Tiger does not have the same ills in his game that we duffers suffer, but the pressure of shooting the low scores will always be there and much more this time that he has been out of circulation so long after news of his infidelity broke out.

While Tiger has always appeared remorseful and has been a different man in the few times that he has talked to the media, playing in a tournament with galleries that can go 20 people deep or even more would really test his ability to blank things out while playing.

Maybe he can pull it, which I hope he would do, but then golf is a game that would always punish you for wrong thoughts before a shot.

Our former golf columnist, John McCullough, once wrote that when you have a hazard in front of your target, think of the target and not the hazard.

In the case of Tiger, he might not be fazed by the hazards that Augusta National, home of the Masters, would lay before him, but the thought that many of his fans think differently about him now.

Well, so far, the reception has been great and the Tiger fans hope that it would continue.

Many have said that if Tiger wins the green jacket, the symbol of the Masters championship, it will turn things around for him and his family.

Iím not so sure about turning things around just like that, but it will definitely be a morale booster for Tiger and his fans.

The coverage of the Masters will start at dawn on Friday until dawn on Monday here in the Philippines.

I know a few people who would be lacking sleep during this period most especially if Tiger will make it to the final pairing on the last round.

* * *

There was no time to blink for the registration of participants in the 12th View Invitational and slots went so fast that many were caught by surprise.

Entry fee is P7,000 per team of two players and the giveaways would be an Alta Vista golf bag for each member of the team.

Tiger Woods soars into contention at Masters Reuters US Online Report Domestic News | 2010-04-09 09:01:13

[PHOTO AT LEFT - AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 08: KJ Choi of South Korea (L) shakes hands with Tiger Woods on the 18th green during the first round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia.]

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 08: KJ Choi of South Korea (L) shakes hands with Tiger Woods on the 18th green during the first round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia. View Photo Ľ

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - An astounded Tiger Woods exceeded his own expectations in his first tournament for almost five months as veteran Fred Couples charged into a one-shot lead in the U.S. Masters first round on Thursday.

Disgraced world number one Woods, welcomed back from self-imposed exile by cheering crowds at Augusta National, soared into contention with two eagles on the way to a four-under-par 68 to lie two strokes off the pace.

"It's unbelievable," Woods told reporters after breaking 70 for the first time in the opening round at Augusta in his 16th Masters appearance. "I would think that a couple under par would have been probably a pretty good start.

"Everybody seemed to go low today and there are 30-plus guys under par. So the golf course, even though it was windy, it could be had today. If I putted well today, it could have been a really special round."

Asked about his rousing reception by the fans, Woods replied: "It was unbelievable all day. I haven't heard them cheer this loud in all my years here."

While the 14-times major winner drew the day's biggest gallery, 1992 champion Couples fired a sizzling 66 in breezy conditions to take command of the year's opening major.

Maintaining the loose-limbed form that has swept him to victories in his last three starts on the seniors tour, the 50-year-old American birdied four of the last seven holes to break clear of the field.

On a gripping day featuring sudden weather changes and electric displays by several former champions, 60-year-old Tom Watson defied his age to share second place on 67 with fellow American Phil Mickelson, Britain's Lee Westwood and South Koreans Yang Yong-eun and KJ Choi.

American Anthony Kim birdied the last three holes for a 68, finishing level with compatriots Woods, Nick Watney and Ricky Barnes, and British world number seven Ian Poulter.


The main focus amid the Georgian pines and heavily contoured layout was on four-times champion Woods, who looked remarkably composed as he started one of the most eagerly anticipated rounds of all time under intense scrutiny.

Despite not having competed since winning the Australian Masters on November 15 following stunning revelations about his extra-marital affairs, he raced to the turn in three-under following two birdies, a bogey and an eagle at the eighth where he coaxed in a curling eight-footer.

Woods, who tipped his cap to the supportive crowds on every hole and repeatedly said "thank you," bogeyed 10 and 14 but comfortably birdied 13 before rolling in a nine-footer to eagle the par-five 15th.

The 34-year-old, who had never before recorded two eagles in one round at Augusta, raised his putter in celebration before lipping out with a four-foot birdie attempt at the last.

With his ball-striking in impeccable form despite his length break, Woods is well positioned in his bid to become the first player to launch his season with a major victory since fellow American Ben Hogan clinched the 1953 Masters.

Under leaden skies, the galleries were packed at least five deep all the way down the opening hole to watch the world number one start what media experts predict will be the biggest single day television audience for a U.S. golf event.


While the world number one had to be feeling a little anxious, he offered a warm smile as he shook hands with playing partners Choi and American Matt Kuchar on the first tee.

The official starter announced: "On the tee, Tiger Woods," prompting loud cheering by fans crammed on either side of the fairway in front of the imposing clubhouse at Augusta.

There were calls of "Go Tiger" and "We love you Tiger," not a hint of heckling and plenty of hooting and hollering in the loudest applause the world number one has received all week.

While Woods began his opening round in strengthening winds, eight-times major winner Watson was putting the finishing touches to a vintage display.

Watson, who came agonizingly close to the most remarkable major victory of all time before losing the 2009 British Open at Turnberry in a playoff, rolled in a five-footer to birdie the last before throwing his arm skywards.

"I did what I had to do today and took advantage of some of the holes that you could take advantage of," Watson said.

Watson's trip down Memory Lane was eclipsed late in the afternoon by Couples, who has long regarded the Masters as the biggest event in golf.

"The Champions Tour has been a lot of fun, but this is where I really want to play well," Couples said. "Today was as good a round as I've ever played here."

(Editing by Tony Jimenez, Ian Ransom and Nick Mulvenney)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved