AUGUSTA, Ga. — For nearly 30 minutes, Dan and Linda Woodland waited for their son along the ropes that cordon off an area just outside the idyllic Augusta National clubhouse.
First, Gary Woodland had to sign his scorecard. Then he had to answer questions from three different waves of reporters, including a throng of international television stations. Then he had to stop for a moment to discuss business with his agent, Mark Steinberg.
Finally, Woodland was free, and he jetted across the grass in front of the clubhouse.
“Solid,” Dan Woodland said, shaking his son’s hand.
Woodland, a Topeka native and KU graduate, fired a 2-under 70 on Thursday in the first round of the Masters, finishing the day two shots behind leader Bill Haas. For Woodland, playing in his third Masters and first since 2012, the opening-round performance seemed to confirm two things: He is indeed playing some of the best golf of his career after nagging injuries, and a wholesale swing change slowed his ascent in 2012 and early 2013.
But more important: Woodland’s power game appears right at home at Augusta National Golf Club.
“I think it’s perfect,” Woodland said. “The par-5s are great; you can attack. The other holes I’m able to hit a lot of 3-woods (off the tee). And when I hit a driver, I feel like it’s a big advantage. So this golf course more than any sets up really good for me.”
Woodland birdied three of the course’s four par-5s, including the 510-yard 13th, the final hole of famed Amen Corner. On a windy day in which the corner wreaked havoc on the field, Woodland escaped with two pars and the birdie, and then added his third birdie at the par-5 15th.
“Some courses just suit your eye,” Dan Woodland said after the round.
Woodland, who teed off in the morning on Thursday, was in a group of seven players at 2 under. In addition to Haas, he was looking up at defending champion Adam Scott (3 under), 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson (3 under) and 2010 British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen (3 under). If Woodland wants to make a move on Friday, he’ll have to keep up with a crowded leaderboard. In a Masters absent Tiger Woods, 19 players ended Thursday within 3 shots of the lead.
In the moments after his round, Woodland appeared pleased, eager to get back on the course on Friday, when he’ll join playing partners Angel Cabrera (6 over) and Ian Poulter (4 over) in a group that tees off at 11:31 a.m.
“You’ve got to stay calm out here, and you’ve got to be patient,” Woodland said of playing Augusta National. “You can’t get ahead of yourself, and if you make a bad swing out here, you’ve got to let it go. You have to trust what you’re doing.”
For Woodland, that meant listening to veteran caddie Tony Navarro, who has carried bags for Greg Norman and Adam Scott at the Masters.
“He put me in the right position, and I was able to do it,” Woodland said. “I feel like we left some out there. I gave myself a lot of chances. I hit a lot of greens. I didn’t make a lot of putts, but I was putting uphill all day. And when you do that out here, you’ll be pretty good.”
It was a gratifying day for Woodland, who had to withdraw in the third round in his last Masters appearance in 2012. On that day two years ago, he suffered a ruptured cyst in his left wrist on No. 8 before gutting his way through the rest of his round.
On Thursday, Woodland thought of the injury as he walked down the same fairway on the eighth hole.
“The last time I was here, my hand kind of blew up on me,” Woodland said. “It was nice to get back here after what happened a couple of years ago.”
Woodland’s road back to the Masters included a revamped swing, a new mental coach and a finally-healthy body. In the week before the tournament, he also enlisted the advice of Norman, the former major champion from Australia. Norman didn’t offer a specific strategy for Augusta, Woodland says, but he did suggest some shots to practice before the tournament.
After one day back at Augusta, it was all good for Woodland.
“I’m a different golfer than I was then, too,” Woodland said. “I’m confident. I’m healthy. Tony gives me definitely added confidence around here. It’s my third year here, but I feel like I’ve been here a hundred times.”