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Tiger to make late start in astonishing Masters comeback

Tiger Woods called on all of his hard-won stamina and the knowledge gleaned in five past triumphs to launch his boldest Masters bid yet with a one-under-par 71 at Augusta National on Thursday.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 07: Tiger Woods walks to the 18th green during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 07, 2022 in Augusta, Georgia. Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by JAMIE SQUIRE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Tiger Woods continues his remarkable comeback from severe leg injuries Friday with an afternoon tee time at the Masters, where the second round began with the legend in title contention.

The 15-time major champion battled through pain to walk the hilly 7,510-yard Augusta National layout, firing a one-under par 71 to stand four strokes behind South Korean leader Im Sung-jae after 18 holes.

“I’m right where I need to be,” Woods said. “I’m going to be sore. That’s just the way it is.

“But the training cycles we’ve had make sure I have the stamina to keep going. We’ve got three more to go. There’s a long way to go and a lot of shots to be played.

“This golf course is going to change and it’s going to get a lot more difficult.”

Woods made an astonishing return to competition 14 months after a car crash in Southern California caused him severe right leg injuries.

Rods, plates and pins help hold together his leg after he was hospitalized for weeks and unable to walk for months.

Rehabilitation work has allowed the 46-year-old medical marvel to make an epic comeback at an iconic setting.

“I’m as sore as I expected to feel, but it was amazing,” Woods said after his first round. “It’s about the training that we’ve done to have the stamina to go.”

Woods, tied for 10th after the first round, is set to tee off at 1:41 p.m. (1741 GMT) in the third-to-last group of the day with playing partners Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Joaquin Niemann of Chile.

Im shot 67 to grab a one-stroke lead over Australian Cameron Smith after 18 holes. The two shared second behind Dustin Johnson at the 2020 Masters, played in November due to Covid-19. That was the last event Woods had played before Thursday.

Johnson shared third on 69 with fellow American and world number one Scottie Scheffler, 2016 Masters winner Danny Willett of England and Niemann.

Thousands of spectators lined every hole of the famed course to cheer Woods in his amazing quest to capture a record-tying sixth green jacket after once fearing he might lose his leg.

“It did not get easier, let’s put it that way,” Woods said. “Walking is not easy and it’s difficult. With all the hard work, my leg, it’s going to be difficult for the rest of my life. That’s just the way it is, but I’m able to do it.”

‘Electric’ atmosphere
Woods drew energy from the crowd of supporters over the same layout where he won his first major title 25 years ago and claimed his most recent major title in 2019 — when he completed an amazing comeback after spinal fusion surgery.

“I’m very lucky to have this opportunity, to play in the Masters and to have this type of reception,” Woods said. “I mean, the place was electric. To have the patrons fully out and to have that type of energy out there was awesome to feel.”

Woods, who has slid to 973rd in world rankings, would match the all-time Masters win record of Jack Nicklaus with a victory and break the record he shares with Sam Snead of 82 career US PGA victories.

Im was set for a morning start under the Georgia pines with windy conditions expected. Johnson also among the early tee times in round two.

Also set for a morning charge was Rory McIlroy, who was pleased with his game despite opening with a 73 that left the four-time major winner six strokes adrift.

McIlroy seeks a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam but hasn’t won a major title since 2014.

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