Augusta, Georgia: Tiger Woods opened the Masters at Augusta National on Thursday by badly hooking his first two drives, but he still managed to stay at level par.
The American doffed his hat to a packed and supportive gallery around the first tee before badly hooking his drive into the towering pine trees left of the fairway, catching one on the way through and bouncing back.
He then struck a superb 5-wood from off the pine needles to short off the green, chipped to five feet and sunk the putt for par.
On the par-five second he again produced a snap hook, his ball burying deep into an unplayable position in a ditch.
Woods took a drop before smacking a long iron, again off the pine needles, to get close to the green and again he chipped and putted for par.
"Feeling ready," Woods posted on his Twitter site on the eve of a tournament he has won four times previously in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005.
Woods, who is also seeking his 15th major title to draw to within three of Jack Nicklaus's record of 18, won his first tournament in 28 months two weeks ago and was immediately installed as Masters favourite with Rory McIlroy leading a strong European challenge.
It was an emotional ceremonial tee-off shortly after the crack of dawn with Gary Player joining old foes Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the Big Three reunited as Honorary Starters to the tournament.
They then stood aside as the first grouping of Craig Stadler, Brendan Steele and Tim Clark walked onto the first tee under perfect playing conditions.
There were early eagles for Padraig Harrington and Henrik Stenson, with Germany's Martin Kaymer joining the Swede atop the early leaderboard at two under at the turn despite bogeying the first.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms over the last few days have made the going soft at the famed Georgia layout and taken some of the sting out of the notoriously fast greens, prompting Phil Mickelson to predict "a birdie-fest."
But with little or no roll on the damp, lush fairways the early going saw few players able to beat par.
Seen by some as the most open Masters in years and by others as merely the stage for a showdown between Woods and McIlroy, this year's tournament has been as hotly anticipated as any in the past.
Woods went off in mid-morning with Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez and rising Korean star Bae Sang-Moon.
The fit-again former world number one says he is driving the ball much better than before with his iron game improving and that "everything is heading in the right direction at the right time."
All that Woods has done since he returned to action last October after another round of knee surgery has been geared towards getting himself primed for this week.
A win on Sunday would be his fifth at Augusta National, one shy of the record six set by Nicklaus in 1986.
Others out early in the day included world number one Luke Donald, who bogeyed the first, defending champion Charl Schwartzel, who was one under after three holes and one of the top US hopes Steve Stricker.
McIlroy, who took a four-shot lead into the final round at last year's Masters but collapsed down the back nine to a soul-destroying 80, was in the penultimate grouping alongside Bubba Watson and 2009 champion Angel Cabrera.
After them, and closing out the day, were scheduled three-time former winner Mickelson playing with last week's Houston Open winner Hunter Mahan and Peter Hanson of Sweden.
The forecasts were for showers and thunderstorms later in the day and on Friday morning with much cooler, drier conditions expected for the weekend.