You don’t have to be a golf fan to be excited about Tiger Woods’ participation in the Masters. He’s been written off before, first for scandal, then for age and injury, and most recently for a car crash that crushed his leg and nearly killed him.

But here’s Tiger, roaming the verdant fairways of Augusta National like he used to.

Tiger Woods used all of his hard-won stamina and expertise from five previous victories to start his most daring Masters campaign yet with a one-under-par 71 at Augusta National on Thursday.

The 46-year-old great, whose February 2021 car accident left him with injuries so serious that he believed he would lose his right leg, described his ability to play his first competitive round in 17 months as a win.

So, Woods took a stride closer to his ball, he positioned his TaylorMade Stealth in front of his Bridgestone ball, took a deep breath, and swung away.

The tee shot at 18 is famous because it’s a tiny tunnel surrounded by massive pines; Woods’ ball travelled so far left that it actually missed the first few trees but eventually clattered against a trunk before pinballing to the forest floor.

But then he had a stroke of luck, he took his medicine, and he performed some magic. Playing competitive golf is more difficult for Woods than it has ever been. He’s making an effort to keep things as basic as possible.

His tee shot was less than 200 yards long, but it landed in a reasonable spot, just short and left of the fairway. With the hole still 270 yards away, Woods weighed his options and chose to lie back with an iron in the fairway.

From 73 yards, Woods hit a nifty nipper that skipped to a stop just six feet from the hole. And he made that one to save par, preserve a round in red figures and finish off an opening one-under 71.

Woods claimed as recently as February that he was unlikely to be ready to tee it up in the first major of the year, and he stressed all week that navigating the hilly, 7,510-yard Augusta National course on his surgically repaired right leg would be his biggest difficulty.

“It did not get easier, let’s put it that way,” he said after a round in blustery winds that lasted nearly five and a half hours. “I can swing a golf club. The walking’s not easy.

“With all the hard work, my leg, it’s going to be difficult for the rest of my life.”

“I mean, the place was electric,” said Woods, who hadn’t played in front of fans at Augusta National since his 2019 triumph ended his 11-year major drought and cemented his return from spinal fusion surgery.