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Shane Bacon

Tiger Woods makes his return to golf an art form

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Impressive. Absolutely and utterly impressive.

He came to Augusta National with one goal in mind, and that was to get back on the golf course. When he drives off the beautiful links on Thursday evening, he will have another thing in mind. Winning this damn thing.

Tiger put together one of the more brilliant rounds he's ever had at the Masters, considering the circumstances, posting a 4-under 68 that could have been much, much better if a few putts had dropped.

His first round scoring average was a mediocre 72.47, but a 68 was good enough to place him in the top-10 after Thursday's opening round, just two shots back of unlikely leader Fred Couples.

Think about that for a second. Four shots better than par after stepping away from golf for 144 days due to personal problems that had to cloud his mind like a thick lava lamp is a feat that even the biggest of Tiger haters have to appreciate.

How did he do it?

Well, in 1997, Tiger Woods made the par-5s at Augusta National look like short par-4s, hitting 9-irons and wedges into them with ease. He won that Masters going away. Now, 13 years later, Woods again made the par-5s look tame, a lip away from three eagles, and playing them 5-under on day one. He eagled both the 8th and the 15th, and rolled the high side on 13 for yet another eagle.

He made two bogeys to go along with his three birdies and two eagles, and gave us a few Tiger moments that the game of golf has been missing this whole time.

The first came when Woods missed a drive left on No. 9. Needing to hook his second nearly 30 yards around a tree, Tiger took a mighty hack, raced after it like Sergio Garcia at Medinah only to watch it land nearly pin high, roll past the pin, and lead to his second three in a row.

The other Tiger moment was at 15, when his eagle putt was a foot away from the hole and Woods already had his putter raised, as to say to us all, "It's still me. The game didn't go anywhere."

People forget how hard it is to do what Tiger has been able to do in major championships over the years, and just assume that when he plays, he will be in contention. It's more than that, but Tiger showed us once again why there is only one of him in this game.

The Masters leaderboard is as stacked as it has ever been after day one. Couples, Westwood, Mickelson, Yang, Kim and Woods, all right there, battling for a chance at a green jacket.

If people expected this to be the greatest Masters ever, the first day spoke volumes. Stick around, dear friends, for a Friday morning where Tiger will take to the course early, in hopes of posting another score for the field to chase.

If you didn't think he had a chance before Thursday, you sure better change your thinking. Tiger Woods is back, in more ways than one.

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