German veteran Bernhard Langer charged into an early share of the lead at the U.S. Masters on Thursday while Tiger Woods prepared to make his highly anticipated return later in the day.
Langer, a twice champion at Augusta National, recorded three birdies to reach the turn in a three-under-par 33, level with American Steve Marino who had completed six holes.
The 52-year-old Langer narrowly missed out on a fourth birdie when his attempt from 10 feet at the par-four ninth slid past the left edge of the cup.
Wearing a bright red shirt and black trousers, the ice-cool German was warmly applauded by the gallery crammed behind the green as he made his way up the hill to the 10th tee. Golfing great Tom Watson, an eight-times major winner, was among a group of three players at two under after six holes.
With a record television audience likely to be watching Woods’ first competitive round in one of sport's biggest events this year, he will play the first two rounds in the company of South Korean KJ Choi and American Matt Kuchar.
Asked earlier this week if he felt ready to clinch his 15th major title after a lengthy break, Woods replied: “Nothing's changed. I'm going to go out there and try to win this thing.”
The 34-year-old will be bidding to become the first player since World War Two to launch his season with a major win since compatriot Ben Hogan clinched the 1953 Masters.
In other high-profile groupings, Ernie Els has been paired with American Anthony Kim and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa while Angel Cabrera is playing with An Byeong-hun and American Jim Furyk.