THE Augusta National top brass can control many things, but they can’t control the weather.

When you’ve waited 508 days for Tiger Woods to play a competitive round, though, what’s a 30-minute delay at the Masters?

It all added to the theatre. The overnight deluge which shunted Tiger’s tee-time back half-an-hour to 11:04 am on the Georgia clock had eagle-eyed observers frantically salivating that the golfing gods were on Woods’ side.

His first round in 2019 – the year he won his fifth green jacket against all the odds  – began at exactly the same time. In the general hysteria generated by this latest, and greatest, comeback, folk were clinging stubbornly to every omen like barnacles in a rockpool.

By the time he was introduced to the 86th staging of the Masters, the sea of humanity that surrounded him on the other side of the ropes had been holding their breaths for so long, they just about needed a snorkle to get through his back swing.

In the end, a one-under 71 was, by any measure, a remarkable effort. Some 14 months ago, Woods was lying in a hospital bed, his legs mangled and his golf career seemingly at an end.

The 46-year-old, with a creaking, groaning body that’s held together by various pins, rods, joists, guy ropes and stanchions, outscored one of his playing partners, Louis Oosthuizen, by five shots. In the period since Woods last played in a full tour event – the 2020 Masters – Oosthuizen had posted four top-three finishes in the majors. It was a herculean effort.

“I’m proud, proud for by whole team,” said Woods in the aftermath. “You have no idea how hard we have worked. There were no days offs.

“There’s been lots of treatment, hopping in ice baths, shivering, suffering, it’s awful. But it allows me to recover. My team has got me ready to have this opportunity. I said ‘get me to this point, I know how to play this course, get me to this point and I’ll take it from there’.”

He certainly did. With a mixture of magic, frustration and the kind of rustiness you’d get on the wheel arch of an old British Leyland, Woods conjured a captivating round.

Three birdies and two bogeys left him lurking just three behind the early clubhouse leader and Players’ Championship winner Cameron Smith, who began his round with a double-bogey, flung eight birdies into the mix after that, and ended it with another double-bogey on the 18th. The Aussie may not have given a Castlemaine Four Ex for what Woods was doing but just about everybody else in Georgia and beyond was transfixed.

Woods ambled gently through the opening few holes at a stately pace but he upped the ante on the fifth with a birdie putt which lipped put. He was walking it in with a trademark swagger too until it refused to drop at the last minute. He had his moment on the very next hole, though. A superb tee-shot to a couple of feet whipped the patrons into a shrieking, hollering frenzy as he ensured a tap-in birdie. Amid the majesty, there were mishaps. A pulled drive on nine into the trees and an approach which rolled off the green prompted a colourful cry of ‘f*** off’. Woods was back right enough.

The magic would return amid the cursing. A brilliant birdie putt of 30-feet on the 16th got him back into the red and he mounted a fine salvage opertation on the last to save par after his drive struck a tree and left him with 270 yards to the pin.

It had been quite the day. “I did not have a very good warm-up at all,” Woods added of a less than inspiring preparation. “But as the round built I was able to get into the red. I am right where I need to be. There is a long way to go, it is a marathon but it is nice to get off to a positive start.”

Former champion Danny Willett was a shot off the lead after an opening 69, with defending champion Hideki Matsuyama carding a 72.

Smith, who has been in fine form and underlined his credentials with that victory at Sawgrass, made another statement of significant intent as he set about his push for a maiden major. It wasn’t quite the joy of six, with those two double-bogeys which bookended his card, but a 68 set a sturdy standard.

Oban’s Robert MacIntyre had put in a spirited showing and back-to-back birdies late on had him at level-par coming to the end of his round. Poor old Sandy Lyle, though, muddled though to an 82. It wasn’t a day to remember for one past Masters champion. It was for the returning Woods, though.