It’s usually a good idea to not judge the potential success of an endeavour by how it starts. Apollo 13 launched successfully on this date in 1970, and, well, that ride ended up getting kind of bumpy.

That’s not to suggest that Tiger Woods might be in for some turbulence in his 26th Masters, but the five-time champion did take off nicely Thursday afternoon, accomplishing something rare—something he had done only once before. With a 10-foot putt at the par-4 first hole at Augusta National Golf Club, Woods opened with a birdie, sending the enormous gallery into an early froth.

As omens go, it didn’t mean much. Woods also started the 1999 Masters with a birdie but went on to shoot even-par 72 and eventually ended up T-18. In 97 rounds at Augusta National, he has birdied the hole named Tea Olive just nine times.

But at least Woods was off and running in just his third competitive round this year. Well, maybe not running, but he wasn’t limping, and that certainly was a welcome sight.

It would be somewhat of a left-handed compliment to say that Woods played OK—perhaps even better than some might have anticipated—in the 13 holes he was able to complete before darkness suspended matters at 7:51 p.m. EDT. Woods looked much better than OK after teeing off at 3:54 p.m.—2½ hours later than first scheduled thanks to the morning weather delay—even when he did have to play a shot left-handed.

That occurred on the par-5 second hole after he hooked his drive left and found his ball inches from a tree. He saved par after a back-handed punch out into the fairway. A bogey at the fourth after flying the green preceded a fairly routine run of pars until he reached the green at the uphill par-five eighth in two—no small accomplishment. He two-putted from 41 feet for birdie.

Woods, 48, went out in one-under 35 and saw his day end still at one under par (tied for 17th) with a six-foot par save at 12 and a two-putt par from 22 feet at the par-five 13th after pumping a 320-yard tee shot into the trees and having to punch out.

Overall, he drove it decently (hitting seven of 10 fairways), and his putting stroke looked solid. Despite windy conditions, Woods managed his game rather nicely in the company of Jason Day and Max Homa. He showed only slight hints of rust as he seeks to set a record by making the cut for the 24th consecutive time.

“I think it’s consistency, it’s longevity, and it’s an understanding of how to play this golf course,” Woods said on Tuesday about his chance to break a tie with Fred Couples and Gary Player. “Now, you still have to go out and execute it, but there’s a lot of knowledge that goes into understanding how to play it. And, granted, every tee box has been changed since the first time I played. Every green has been changed. But the overall configuration of how they roll and how they move and the angles you take, that hasn’t changed.

“That’s the neat thing about this,” he added. “I can still go through the mental Rolodex and bring out a few putts from the ’90s that still move generally in that direction and the effect that Rae’s Creek has on certain shots and putts. And it means a lot.”

The first round resumes at 7:50 a.m.

Image: Ben Walton