Tiger on the loose

MELBOURNE: Tiger Woods brought the Australian Masters to a standstill with traffic jams, road closures and long queues as he made a memorable first Australian tournament appearance in 11 years yesterday.

The 14-time major winner fired seven birdies and just one bogey as he opened his Australian Masters challenge with a six-under 66 at Kingston Heath.

Woods was in a three-way share of the lead with young South African Branden Grace and Australian James Nitties.

Spectators climbed into trees to get a glimpse of Woods as thousands clamoured to watch his every shot in his first Australian tournament since the 1998 Presidents Cup.

Car parks were full soon after sunrise and all spectator vantage spots were snapped up as the world number one teed off early in his opening round.

Access roads were closed and accessible only by car pass holders, taxis and local traffic in a bid to cope with the public crush to see Woods play.

Even Woods said he was caught up in the traffic jam from Melbourne to the outlying course, but the all-time golfing great was highly complimentary of the reception he received.

“The crowd was great today,” Woods said.

“The people were obviously excited about the pairing and they were extremely respectful and they were actually policing themselves, which is great as we don’t get that too often.

“The galleries are very knowledgeable and they were trying to help us out with other people who were taking pictures.”

All 100,000 tickets for the four days of the tournament were snapped up last month for the American superstar’s long-awaited return trip to Australia.

He has been trailed by thousands of fans in practice rounds this week ahead of the tournament proper.

On the 13th green, some spectators climbed into the low branches of trees in a bid to get a better view of the 14-time major winner as he made his way up the fairway.

The crowds were largely orderly and respectful while Woods played his shots with a phalanx of fans’ mobile phone cameras capturing his every move.

Woods, playing with defending champion Rod Pampling and three-times Australian Masters winner Craig Parry, is chasing his 93rd tournament title.

The world number one was reportedly paid a US$3mil appearance fee, partly funded by the Victorian state government, to get him to Melbourne. — AFP

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