Augusta - Tiger Woods bungled three shots on the last two holes Thursday to deny himself his best first round in 15 Masters appearances, firing a two-under par 70 to settle for a share of 20th place.
World number one Woods, playing his first round in a major championship since winning a playoff for the US Open title last June, has never broken 70 in the opening round at Augusta National Golf Club.
Woods lipped out a three-foot birdie putt at the 17th, then sent his approach at the 18th soaring over the green and into the crowd. His chip back rolled down the front of the green 50 feet from the cup.
The 14-time major champion rolled the ball two feet from the cup and tapped in for a bogey, a disappointing end to a day that could have put him much closer than the five-stroke deficit he now has to US compatriot Chad Campbell.
"I let a couple shots slip away at the end but overall I'm happy with the way I hit the golf ball," Woods said. "Overall, when you get warm conditions like this, guys can get the ball down there and get it flying."
Woods did, however, match his lowest first-round score ever at the Masters. The other three times he started with a 70 - 1997, 2001 and 2002 - he went on to win the tournament. In 2005, his other Masters win, Woods opened with a 74.
A repeat of that feat would bring his 15th major title, three shy of the all-time record set by Jack Nicklaus, and his fifth Masters green jacket, one back of the career mark owned by Nicklaus.
"We've got a long way to go. Conditions are going to start changing a little bit," Woods said. "You've just got to keep patient, stay with it. It's not like I haven't been in this position before."
Following his first round in a major since left knee surgery led to an eight-month layoff, Woods said his knee felt great and his round was no different than in past majors.
"Felt the same," he said. "Just kind of plodding along."
Woods birdied three holes in a row starting at the par-5 13th after a birdie on the par-3 sixth and a bogey to finish the front nine.
"A score could have been had out there. You could go get it," Woods said. "I was in position. I didn't make any putts. I just kind of hung in there. I knew on the back nine I could have been 4- or 5-under."
The worst moment came off his approach at 18.
"It was unbelievable," Woods said. "I hit just a little 8-iron and it flew 155 uphill. That's a long way to hit it. I hit a good shot and it ended up in a bad spot."