Casey shot seven under par on Thursday, and Woods was four under, after rain delayed the start of tournament and left many golfers with unfinished rounds.
At ease as he played his 87th round at the Masters, Tiger Woods stalked the Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday with the aplomb of someone sauntering through his living room in search of his favorite recliner, foot stool and coaster, for the cool drink in his hand. Shot by shot, the path was so familiar he could have negotiated it in the dark.
Because Woods has won the tournament five times and has been a Masters fixture for the past 25 years, it is possible he has played the golf course in those conditions. And probably still broken par.
Woods, the reigning champion, was not the leader after Thursday’s first-round play, which was delayed by a nearly three-hour thunderstorm that left dozens of golfers unable to finish their sessions. With a four-under-par 68, Woods was tied for fourth and quietly three strokes behind the leader, Paul Casey.
But Woods’s commanding round was the loudest statement of the day. It has been an up-and-down year for Woods, but on this day he was composed and virtually never out of position on the devilish Augusta National layout. It almost seemed that he was on cruise control, as if he could coast to a 68.
“I did everything well today,” Woods, who is not prone to self-congratulation, said after his round.
Every other seasoned contender in the field knows the Masters history when Woods has a good opening round. It is not true that he has won every time he has shot 70 or better in the first round. It has, however, happened four times. He has seriously contended on the three other occasions when he has been two strokes or more under par after the first day, finishing fourth twice and sixth once.
When Woods was asked if he was surprised at how well he had played given his uneven performances during the bulk of this season, he shrugged.
“Understanding how to play this golf course is just a big part of playing well here,” he said. “It’s so familiar.”
He knows the territory; he could find the television remote in the dark of his living room, too.