He played. That seemed like no small feat. For the most part he played well. That apparently surprised more than it might have. Golf was never the problem here.
He was given a welcoming, encouraging, nourishing reception. It put him at ease. He fuelled it by being far more personable than in recent years and the positive re-enforcement fed him. That answered the biggest question of the day.
So Tiger Woods returned to the sport he has dominated since his arrival, putting aside the scandal, scorn and scrutiny. And for the first time in his Masters history he broke 70 in his opening round at Augusta.
In the lead-up the world number one was dealt the terms of his atonement by the high priest of the sport, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne.
“Is there a way forward? I hope yes. I think yes,” Payne noted in his prepared remarks on behalf of the club’s membership.
“But certainly his future will never again be measured only by his performances against par, but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change.”
Clearly not everyone was happy to have Woods back at the Masters.
Then came the miserably miscalculated Nike ad featuring the voice of his dead father Earl:
“I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?”
It can be said with some certainty the marketing executives who either refused to challenge Woods’ indulgences or aided and abetted them, have learnt nothing. This had nothing to do with golf. And simply winning at golf won’t redeem him.
As ESPN took up the telecast anchor Mike Tirico proclaimed: “We all return to this national treasure that serves as a great reminder of renewal and hope that comes each spring and comes to mind when the Masters is back on TV.”
It wasn’t specific of Tiger, yet entirely relevant as he embarked on the “most anticipated sporting moment of the year”.
The first tee would’ve been affirming. First the plentiful crowd was generous in its applause. Then Woods cracked his driver and twirled the club with a note of satisfaction as the ball roared into the distance.
The fates favoured him on a day when he wasn’t punished for his mistakes.
His blind approach into eight thumped off the mounds and down on to the green, setting up eagle.
His drive hit the magnolias on 10, but they spat him out.
He was right off the 11th tee but got a big bounce to the second cut of the rough. Noted one commentator: “Even the squirrels love him.”
Completing the favours the weather, which had the tornado watchers gearing up, split killing the wind and bringing back the sunshine.
Woods gave more than a glimpse of his supreme skill.
He played a snap-hook on the ninth that was vintage. So was the skipping side step to get a view of his handiwork.
On his first televised holes he covered the 1,100 yards of eight and nine in six shots – three under par.
His nine iron on the par three 12th left a divot a foot from the hole.
But there was nothing better than his second shot into 15 from 191 yards; a stroke of such precision as to leave the world’s second best player gasping in disbelief.
There were two eagles, three birdies and three bogeys. He signed for a 68.
More than that, there was acceptance. It was said more than once that golf was happy to have him back.
Former pros Nick Faldo and Curtis Strange seemed a little taken aback by the warmth. They had anticipated reservation, perhaps even retribution. There was even a note of disappointment that it didn’t come.
Woods observed afterwards he hadn’t heard the crowds as loud. He was appreciative and said he heard nothing derogatory.
It was Fogy’s Day at Augusta. Four players 50 or older shot under par. Sixty-year-old Tom Watson calmed the morning wind to shoot 67, his lowest round at the Masters in two decades.
The lead was captured by a sockless Fred Couples and his 66 – victories on the Seniors Tour priming him for an assault on the first Major of the year.
But it’s eyes on the Tiger. His overwhelming feeling out of the opening round was it felt “normal”. And all things being equal Tiger normally wins.