Augusta - Tiger Woods got off to a solid start on Thursday as he returned to golf at the Masters, shooting a couple of pars then a birdie at the third hole.
Tom Watson was the clubhouse leader after hitting a 5-under-par 67 but all the focus was on Woods, who was back in competitive action after a late-night car crash in November led to revelations of numerous extramarital affairs.
Woods, no longer sporting the goatee he had worn during practice, received a big ovation from the Augusta National crowd before he teed off at the first. The four-time Masters champion hit his drive onto the fairway and put his second shot within about 15 feet of the cup, but his birdie attempt curled just wide.
Woods took another par at No. 2, knocking his second shot over the green, against the edge of a bunker. A high wedge didn't spin back as much as he would have liked, and a testing downhill putt for birdie wasn't close.
But he bounced back at No. 3, the shortest par-4 hole on the course. Woods knocked his second shot to five feet and rolled in the birdie putt.
Woods was in the next-to-last group, playing with K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar. There was some question whether there would be a rain delay as skies darkened and the wind picked up ahead of an approaching storm front.
Amid all the cheers, a small plane flew overhead pulling a banner that alluded to the scandal.
Nothing could overshadow the world's greatest player returning from a five-month layoff, not even another turn-back-the-clock performance by Watson.
The 60-year-old Watson, who nearly became the oldest major winner in golf history at last year's British Open, showed that wasn't a fluke. He grabbed the clubhouse lead with a 5-under-par 67, tying his best round at Augusta. The last time he did it was 20 years ago.
Watson closed with a 10-foot birdie putt at the tough 18th hole, set up by a brilliant iron shot that skipped along the right side of the green, caught the ridge and turned back toward the flag.
"What made the day so worthwhile was having my son Michael caddie for me," Watson said. "I wanted to shoot a good score for Michael."
Lee Westwood and Y.E. Yang, who rallied to beat Woods on the final day of the 2009 PGA Championship, were both at 4 under. David Toms, who failed to qualify for the Masters a year ago, was in the clubhouse with a 69.