AUGUSTA, Ga. — Gary Woodland has had more dynamic days at Augusta National Golf Club than the one he turned in during Thursday's opening round of the 83rd Masters.
Like his first round ever in 2011 when the Topeka native fired a 3-under 69 that included birdie barrage on the back nine. Or the 69 in 2014's third round when he tied the front-nine record with a 6-under 30.
But in terms of consistency, Woodland arguably has never been better than he was Thursday, when he spent part of his day atop the leaderboard and finished with a 2-under 70 that has him tied for 11th, four shots off the lead shared by Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.
"I felt good today," Woodland said. "I felt good on the range. ... I drove the golf ball well today. I felt good over the putter. I made some nice saves for par."
Only bogeys to start and finish his round kept the day from being Woodland's best scoring round ever at the Masters. But in between those hiccups, he was virtually flawless.
Woodland attacked when he wanted to and played conservatively when necessary. The game plan he devised going in went pretty much the way it was designed.
Really, Woodland couldn't have asked for a whole lot more.
"I'm a lot more comfortable here and that's because I'm a lot more comfortable with my game," Woodland said. "I've gotten a lot of knowledge playing with guys like (Tom) Watson and people who have been here before, local caddies. I have the information, and obviously Butchie (Brennan Little) on the bag, he's won here before.
"But I'm more confident in my game and doing what I'm doing. The big thing for me today was I wasn't aiming at many pins. I aimed where I was supposed to hit it. I picked targets up in the air, in the trees instead of looking at the flag, because it's hard for me sometimes because all I see is that flag and want to go at it. Around here, that's not a good thing to do sometimes."
Another big key for Woodland's strong showing on Thursday was a hot day with his putter. He didn't roll in any bombs of considerable distance — his longest birdie putt was 17 feet — but Woodland routinely made one tester after another to save par. Arguably his biggest putt of the day came on No. 18, a 14-footer for bogey to avoid a final-hole collapse that would have ruined the day.
"The putter felt great," said Woodland, who made a change with the flat stick this week, going to a larger grip after trying Kevin Kisner's out during a practice round. "The good thing for me today was I kept it below the hole. When you do that, you can putt aggressively. That's hard to do sometimes out here, especially in the spots I've hit it the past couple of years. I controlled the ball well enough I gave myself chances to be aggressive with the putter, and I hit great putts today."
Woodland also exorcised some past demons with his round Thursday. In his 17 previous rounds at Augusta National, Woodland had never made birdie on either No. 5 or No. 7.
On Thursday, he conquered both. He stuck his approach on the new-look and longer No. 5 to 9 feet and ran home the birdie putt, and then drained a 17-footer for birdie on No. 7 to finally end his drought on the holes.
"That was nice," Woodland said. "I played more aggressively on both of them. I've hit 3-wood on those holes almost every year I've been here and I hit driver on them today. That puts shorter clubs in my hands. With the extension on 5, you almost have to hit driver and that was a nice 5-iron in there. And 7, I hit driver and had wedge in my hand. That hole has really hurt me, but with a wedge in my hand, I could be more aggressive."
Those birdies, coupled with one on the par-5 No. 2 after reaching the green in two, put Woodland at 2 under making the turn, offsetting his bogey on No. 1 when his punch shot from under a tree ran across the green and off the back and his chip checked up short on the fringe.
Woodland couldn't cash in on No. 8 after reaching the par-5 hole in two, or on the par-5 13th after sending his drive into the right pines. But he chipped to 3 feet for birdie on No. 15 to get to 3 under and a share of the lead and stayed there with big par saves on 16 and 17 before nearly sabotaging his round on 18.
His drive found the right magnolias, forcing him to chip back out to the fairway. Woodland sent his approach long into the gallery behind the green and his putt with a 3-wood back on ran well past the hole, putting him in danger of making a double bogey to wipe out the work he'd done.
Instead, he drained the long bogey putt to minimize the damage and keep him within close striking distance of the lead going into Friday's second round.
"It was big to save bogey there on the last," Woodland said. "The wind started to swirl there at the end. I was very excited about that third shot I hit there on 18 and it flies the green. Same thing on 17. It picked up a bit above the trees."
Woodland will tee off at 12:38 p.m. (Topeka time) on Friday, looking to make the cut for the first time since 2014. He's missed the cut in his last three appearances.