AUGUSTA, Ga. - It was as if nothing ever had happened. Tiger Woods was playing golf, playing it well, and the crowd was huge and appreciative, oohing and aahing and now and then yelling "Go, Tiger!'' or "Come on, Tiger!''

The same as always.

Except it wasn't the same. It was better.

His first competitive round of golf in five months was the first time Tiger Woods had broken 70 in an opening round of the Masters in 15 years.

The questions, the worries, the disillusionment, the disdain were left blowing in the wind that swept Augusta National Golf Club Thursday, when Woods verified that great athletes do not lose their touch even when they may have lost their way.

Woods shot a 68 and is only two shots out of the lead held by 50-year-old Fred Couples.

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Lightning didn't flash and the ground didn't shake, although the crowd parted like the Red Sea to give Woods room to get to the first tee for the 1:42 p.m. starting time in a threesome shared by A.J. Choi (67) and Matt Kuchar (70).

Uniformed security personnel walked inside the ropes - extra protection that, with a friendly gallery, proved unnecessary.

Two banners would be hauled by airplane across Augusta National. Not long after the round started, a plane crossed the course trailing a banner reading "Tiger: Did You Mean Booty-ism?''

Then possibly the same plane came back with another, "Sex Addict? Yeah Sure, Me Too.''

"I didn't see it,'' Woods said.

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What he saw was an opportunity.

"It felt just like [normal],'' said Woods, whose last round was in mid-November. "I got into the flow of the round early. I got into the rhythm of just playing and hitting shots and thinking my way around the golf course and ball placement. I got into it early, which was very nice.''

"I expected to go out there and shoot something under par,'' Woods said. "I went about my business.''