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Tiger Woods returns with a solid Masters start

The Associated Press. Tiger Woods pumps his fist after his birdie putt on the ninth green during the first round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta on Thursday.

The Associated Press. Tiger Woods pumps his fist after his birdie putt on the ninth green during the first round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta on Thursday.

AUGUSTA -- Tiger Woods made the turn in 3-under par at the Masters as he showed that his game was in good shape on his return to competitive action.

Woods sank a 10-foot eagle putt at the eighth hole to set off a huge roar at Augusta National and then birdied the next to sit two shots behind clubhouse leaders Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Y.E.Yang.

No one was sure what to expect from four-time Masters champion Woods, returning for one of the most scrutinized opening rounds in golf history and his first competitive round since a late-night car crash in November led to revelations of numerous extramarital affairs.

Though there were plenty of cheers for Woods, a small plane flew overhead pulling a banner with a catty word play on Buddhism, his religion, in reference to the scandal.

Still, nothing was going to overshadow the world's greatest player returning from an astonishing downfall and five-month layoff, not even Mickelson tied for the top spot on the leaderboard and another turn-back-the-clock performance by Watson.

Flashing a smile at the opening tee, Woods hit his opening drive into the fairway and put his second shot within about 15 feet of the cup, but his birdie attempt curled just wide.

About the time Watson was finishing, Woods took another par at No. 2, knocking his second shot over the green, against the edge of a bunker. A high wedge didn't spin back as much as he would have liked, and a testy downhill putt for birdie wasn't close.

But he bounced back at No. 3, the shortest par-4 hole on the course. Woods knocked his second shot to five feet and rolled in the birdie.

Woods was in the next-to-last group, playing with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar. There was some question whether there would be a rain delay as skies darkened and the wind gusted up to 22 mph ahead of an approaching storm front.

Three straight pars followed Woods' birdie before the first stumble: an errant drive at No. 7 led to a bogey that knocked him back to even par. But that was quickly overshadowed by two precise shots at the par-5 eighth, leading to a tantalizingly slow eagle putt that Woods made as a stiff breeze whipped his pant legs.

The 60-year-old Watson, who nearly became the oldest major winner in golf history at last year's British Open, showed that wasn't a fluke. He grabbed the clubhouse lead with a 5-under 67, tying his best round at Augusta.

The last time he did it was 20 years ago. Watson closed with a 5-foot birdie putt at the tough 18th hole, set up by a brilliant iron shot that skipped along the right side of the green, caught the ridge and turned back toward the flag.

"What made the day so worthwhile was having my son Michael caddie for me," Watson said. "I wanted to shoot a good score for Michael."

Mickelson was among three other morning starters who matched Watson's 67, joined by reigning PGA Championship winner Yang and England's Westwood, seeking his first major title.

Mickelson had a blistering eagle-birdie-birdie stretch starting at the par-5 13th, and his score could have been even lower. He missed birdie tries of about 10 feet at No. 16 and a 5-footer at the 18th.

Anthony Kim endured a wild back side on his way to a 68. He started with three straight bogeys, made an eagle at 13, another bogey at the 14th, then closed with three straight birdies. His only par after the turn came at No. 16.

David Toms, who failed to qualify for the Masters a year ago, returned with a 69. Defending Masters champion Angel Cabrera got off to a strong start with a 3-under 33 at the turn, but a double-bogey 7 at the 13th sent him tumbling to a 73.