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Woods struggles with one eye on Masters

ESPN staff
February 27, 2014 « Spurs through after thriller, but Swans' wings clipped by Napoli | Chartbeat test »
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Tiger Woods may be headlining a star-studded field at the Honda Classic, but the world No.1 has admitted he has one eye on the opening major of the season, The Masters, in six weeks' time.

Woods has not won any of golf's four biggest prizes since hobbling to victory at the 2008 US Open - his 14th major title.

And the 38-year-old revealed that most players start looking ahead to the the battle for the Green Jacket once the Florida swing kicks in - starting at PGA National this week.

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"Once we get to Florida, we're all thinking about it, on our way to Augusta," Woods said.

"For most of the guys, this is like their prep to Augusta this week. The quality and the depth of the field has gotten so much better in recent years."

But Woods' return to competitive golf on Thursday following his worst two-tournament start as a professional did not exactly evoke confidence that he has turned things around after a 1-over par 71 left him well down the field.

There was improvement with the driver, so-so success with his irons and a mostly disappointing performance on the greens - even though he spent the majority of his practice time in recent weeks working on his short game and putting.

"It certainly wasn't together today," Woods said. "I didn't get into a roll early. I had four good looks early and they were easy putts, too, and I just didn't have the speed right.

"I hit it good starting out. Hit it kind of scrappy in the middle and then hit it good at the end. But it was just one or the other, I either hit it good and missed the putt, and then scrap around and make a putt."

His 71 trailed leader Rory McIlroy by eight shots.

After hitting his first three fairways and finding the short grass with the driver five of the first six times, Woods struggled off the tee. He made the turn at 1-under, then missed the first three fairways on the front nine. One led to a double-bogey at the second hole, where he topped his second shot while trying to play it from under a tree.

Woods bounced back with a birdie at the par-5 third, and that produced a bright spot that's been imperative to his success: He managed to birdie both par-5s, something he wasn't able to do in his season-opening event at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

That is where he failed to make the secondary cut and finished tied for 80th. A week later at the Dubai Desert Classic, he tied for 41st for his worst two-tournament start to a year in 18 seasons as a pro. Woods had never finished outside of the top 20 in both of his first two tournaments, and nine times he won at least one of the two.

"I hit it good enough to shoot probably at least three or four lower than I did," Woods said. "I had so many looks where I just missed, and I just need to read them a little bit better than I did today."

A victory here will require a rally on a course that traditionally plays as one of the most difficult on the PGA Tour.

Woods hit eight of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens but needed 30 putts. And he was four strokes behind playing partner Zach Johnson, who made a quadruple-bogey 8 at his second hole, the par-4 11th. Johnson rebounded to make seven birdies and shoot a 67.

"Not surprising knowing how tough the guy is," Woods said of Johnson, who defeated him in a play-off in December at the World Challenge. "He was pretty stoked about what he did today. He definitely had comeback player of the day award."

Johnson added: "No one ever likes that 'quad' word. I feel great about how I righted the ship."

Extracts from this report were written by ESPN.com senior golf writer Bob Harig

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