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Still, this day was always going to be about Woods.
He had not hit a competitive shot in 144 days, since winning the Australian Masters on Nov. 15 for his 82nd victory around the world. A four-time Masters champion, he has never come to Augusta National with so much uncertainty -- about his game, and mostly how fans would respond to a player whose impeccable image had been shattered by tawdry tabloid tales of sex.
The patrons were on their best behavior, as expected at the most polite tournament in golf. Augusta National can't control the perimeter of the course, however, and a couple of planes toted banners that poked fun at Woods -- one for his pledge to get back to Buddhism ("Bootyism," the banner said), another mocking claims he needed therapy as a sex addict.
On the ground, the gallery was mostly positive, with a few exceptions.
"He doesn't have the right character and integrity to represent golf," Larry Isenhour said. "That's why I came out early this morning to applaud Jack Nicklaus."
Nicklaus, the six-time Masters champion, joined Arnold Palmer as an honorary starter. The two longtime rivals hit the ceremonial tee shots to open the Masters, and chairman Billy Payne said, "The 2010 Masters is now officially begun. Have fun."
Clouds moved in quickly and kept the sun from baking out the greens, and some of the hole locations allowed for birdies. The low scores weren't a surprise, only the names next to them.
Couples and Watson were the biggest surprises, of course, but Mickelson came to the Masters without having finished in the top five all year. He looked as comfortable as ever, particularly on the back nine with an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch that briefly put him atop the leaderboard at 67.
"I do love this place," Lefty said. "I don't have to be perfect. I can miss a shot and still recover. It relaxes me when I go down Magnolia Lane."
Westwood, Europe's top player, had only broken 70 twice in his Masters career until running off seven birdies for a 67.
They'll all have to contend with Woods, it seems.
He'll tee off Friday morning with Choi and Matt Kuchar, looking to set up a weekend no one could have envisioned, the kind that ends early Sunday evening with Woods, perhaps, slipping on a green jacket for the fifth time.
"Why play if you don't think you're going to win," he said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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