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Fans at Masters flock to see Tiger Woods practice

Tiger Woods signs his autograph for a patron

Tiger Woods signs his autograph for a patron during a practice round before the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 6, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Chips ahoy! In the first time Tiger Woods put his game on public view since a hiatus to cure what has been called the "chipping yips," he sure seemed relaxed. And the public sure seemed to enjoy viewing it all.

Rather than starting his practice round the first thing in the morning Monday, as he usually does, Woods did not begin until 4:20 p.m., the time he prefers to play on Sunday. He appeared determined to feel comfortable, playing Augusta National's front nine with old buddy Mark O'Meara.

Though practice-day fans usually are headed to the exits at that time, and regardless of the clouds overhead and a thunderstorm threat, he was followed by a crowd that was as big as those that other golfers get during a tournament round.

Even before that, on the practice tee, he showed up with ear buds and a hug for just about everyone he saw, including Sean Foley, the swing coach with whom he parted ways last year. Both in the practice area and on the course, his chipping was fine.

Because of unsightly shots around the green in his few tournament rounds this season, spectators often greeted a normal low-trajectory chip or lofted pitch with shouts of "Nice shot, Tiger!" and brief applause.

Woods actually began his practice round without any need for a chip. He put his second shot from the rough only 6 feet from the hole and made the putt. He then spent 10 minutes or so hitting shots from in front or the side of the green, finishing up with a few more putts. When he was done, he whisked the ball off the short grass with the back of his putter and tossed it into his free hand -- a deliberate flourish.

On the way down the second fairway, people yelled, "Welcome back, Tiger" and "It's good to have you back, Tiger!"

It was impossible to tell if the crowd was drawn by his celebrity status, his record or the fascination of seeing if he still can really play. In any case, the first day of preparation for the Masters proved that he is not going to be an afterthought.

"I like what I see," O'Meara said, having stopped after nine holes, while Woods went on to play No. 10. "You can never underestimate Tiger Woods. He has a great passion. I'm a huge fan, I'm a friend, I care about him. It was great to be out there with him today. I saw some good signs. His pitching, I think, looks a lot better. He's worked really hard on it. Listen, there's a lot of pressure on him, there always has been his whole life. But if he swings the way I know he's capable of swinging and he pitches and rolls the putter, there's no reason he shouldn't have a good week this week.

"Sometimes in life it's not bad to struggle a little bit," O'Meara said. "Sometimes it makes you better."

The question is, will Woods be able to play better when the heat is on, beginning Thursday?

Compton shows heart.Erik Compton, making his Masters debut, acknowledged that he was asked to hold a news conference Monday, not only because he is making his Masters debut at 35 or that he tied for second at the 2014 U.S. Open. It was because he has had two heart transplants.

"It's hard, but it's also a great thing. There's two sides to me," he said. "I'm a competitor and a sports person and I'm also the recipient of two transplants. So when you put them together, it does make a little bit of spaghetti in my mind sometimes. But you know, I'll take it."

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