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Horror start to Sergio Garcia’s Masters title defence

Spaniard won in 2017 but could make early exit this time around.

Sergio Garcia’s title defence effectively came to an embarrassing early end as he took an amazing 13 shots to play the 15th hole in the opening round of the Masters.

Garcia dumped five balls into the water on the same par five where he made a vital eagle in last year’s final round, surpassing the previous highest score on the hole of 11 shared by Jumbo Ozaki, Ben Crenshaw and Ignacio Garrido.

The 38-year-old went for the green in two and then needed five more attempts to find the putting surface and hole out from nine feet to avoid any further damage.

Garcia did at least bounce back with a birdie on the 16th, but an 81 left him 86th in the 87-man field as Tiger Woods rallied to post an opening 73 in pursuit of his 15th major title.

“It was interesting, an up and down day for me today,” Woods told ESPN. “I had some opportunities to makes and didn’t do it. I played the par fives very sloppily and that was the difference in the round.”

Woods was five shots off the lead as he signed his card, with Henrik Stenson, Charley Hoffman and Adam Hadwin four under with two holes to play.

Woods is contesting the year’s opening major for the first time in three years after undergoing spinal fusion surgery in April last year and has finished 12th, second and fifth in his last three starts on the PGA Tour.

But not for the first time in his career, the 42-year-old pulled his opening tee-shot into the trees which separate the first and ninth fairways, despite hitting three wood rather than a driver.

The former world number one hit a low punch shot from the pine straw which found the front edge of the green, from where he produced a superbly well-judged putt from long range to leave a tap-in for par.

Woods failed to take advantage of a 350-yard drive on the second after pushing his approach into a greenside bunker, but made no mistake from eight feet on the third after driving to within 20 yards of the green on the short par four.

However, Woods bogeyed the fourth and fifth after finding sand off the tee on both occasions and his round was in danger of unravelling when a wild drive on the 11th was followed by an attempted recovery which clattered into the gallery.

The resulting dropped shot was followed by a tee shot into the water on the 12th, but after a mediocre pitch Woods holed from 15 feet to salvage a bogey.

A birdie on the 14th was followed by another wayward tee shot on the 15th and meant Woods had to settle for a fourth par of the day on the par fives, holes he has played in 150 under par in his career.

But Woods did birdie the 16th to limit the damage on a day when some tough pin positions made low scores hard to come by.

One such score was remarkably coming from American Tony Finau, despite suffering a sickening injury during the pre-tournament par-three contest.

Finau was running backwards in an enthusiastic celebration of a hole-in-one on the seventh when his left ankle buckled underneath him.

The 28-year-old then appeared to pop the dislocated ankle back into place, before later undergoing X-rays and an MRI scan, which thankfully revealed a high ankle sprain but no significant damage.

Finau began his round with a bogey on the first, but birdied the second, fourth, eighth and ninth to reach three under par.

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