By Frank Pingue
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Tiger Woods was moved by the support he received from fans in his U.S. Masters return on Thursday and said he was proud of salvaging a round that at times looked like it was going to go off the rails.
Woods, competing in his first major since the 2015 PGA Championship, received standing ovations from patrons at the driving range and 18th green where he tapped in for par to complete a one-over 73.
"I played in a major championship again," said Woods, who just last September, while recovering from spinal fusion surgery, admitted his days of competitive golf may be over.
"I got myself back in this tournament, and I could have easily let it slip away. And I fought hard to get it back in there, and I'm back in this championship. There's a lot of holes to be played."
The four-times champion was upbeat because of a flawless six-hole closing stretch that included two birdies and perhaps gave him a boost of confidence after struggling for the better part of the round.
But Woods, who entered the tournament as a favourite to collect his 15th major title after showing impressive form, said his inconsistent performance had nothing to do with being nervous at making his return to one of golf's biggest stages.
"The nerves really were just normal. I wasn't flying high. I wasn't jittery, I wasn't any of that stuff," said Woods. "I was very confident in what I was doing. And I hit some good shots early, unfortunately they just didn't continue."
Woods, dressed in black, was greeted to loud cheers from the onlookers crammed around the first tee where after acknowledging them with a subtle nod and touch of his visor, went on to hook his opening shot into the trees left of the fairway.
The former world number one also sent galleries scurrying with shots at the 13th and 15th holes and dumped his tee shot at the par-three 12th into Rae's Creek.
Woods got into red figures when he drained a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-four third hole but then made consecutive bogeys at the fourth and fifth holes.
The 11th brought more trouble as his tee shot sailed way right of the fairway. From there Woods hit a low stinger toward the green that went into the gallery.
After seeing his tee shot at the 12th end up in the water, Woods did well to make birdies at 14 and 16, the latter producing a huge roar from the crowd.
He then soaked in the applause at the 18th, where he removed his hat and saluted the crowd.
"The crowds have been incredible," said Woods, who is seven shots back of first-round leader Jordan Spieth. "It's been awesome this entire comeback."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)