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the masters

Tiger Woods Is Still Rather Skilled at Golf

Huge. Quickly. All right, bye.

Tiger Woods, who was once known as a golfer, holds the Masters record for best average round at Augusta, notching a mark just under 71 for his career (one-under par). That's better than Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and everyone else. But that's a mark he put up in his previous life, the one before last Thanksgiving. Apparently, this new life he has ... in this new life, he's better.

In his first round of this new life, Tiger killed it, notching a four-under-par 68, the first time he has ever been in the 60s for the first round. He is two strokes behind leader Fred Couples, who is 50 years old and not expected to be a serious contender all four days. (He's also one behind Phil Mickelson, who isn't going anywhere.) Tiger actually notched two eagles, the first time he has ever done that in one round of the Masters. That is to say: Tiger Woods kicked Augusta's arse in a way he has never done on a Thursday before. A missed par on eighteen would have brought him even closer.

It's worth noting that there were ideal conditions at Augusta: Couples himself said after his round that the course "played easy today." (That comment alone practically guarantees him an 80 tomorrow.) The weather was a little crazy early — at one point Augusta had a freaking tornado watch — but by the end, it was just a little rainy, nothing that bothered anyone. It's going to be even nicer the rest of the weekend. The scores should stay low.

But forget the golf. Most important for Tiger: There were no hecklers, there were no disruptions, there was nothing other than the pastoral and dull game of golf. If it weren't for Tiger's quieter, non-vulgarity-riddled demeanor — once he muttered "gaaaad" after a bad drive, but that was it — you wouldn't have known anything was out of the ordinary. Tiger even smiled a couple of times. He didn't do that much even in the old days. The only time he looked unhappy was when he walked off the course after the eighteenth hole. There, the world awaited, again.

So: Tiger is not missing the cut, he is not melting down, he is not groping caddies. He's playing world-class golf, better than he has ever played, really, with minimal practice and preparation, during the lowest point of his life. Look out.

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Photo: Harry How/Getty Images