AUGUSTA, Ga.—Tiger Woods has always evoked intense emotions. Joy, admiration, reverence, indignation, disillusion, concern, fear, wonder, gratitude…for a quarter of a century we have collectively lived and died with every blow and headline, the many triumphs interspersed with scandal and injury. The opening of Woods 71 at this Masters set the sports world on fire, with a simple game of golf becoming a common experience. The vertigo that accompanied his surprisingly stellar play was nevertheless tinged with concern: How long could this fairy tale go on?
On the Friday of the Masters, played in the afternoon amid gusty winds and dropping temperatures, a grim reality quickly set in. Woods bugged four of his first five holes, looking stiff and hesitant. His driver was capricious, his irons imprecise, his chipping and his putting lacking in conviction. In just over an hour, a sense of deflation swept through Augusta National and Golf Twitter. Reality hurts. But a tricky back-and-forth at the par-5 8th led to a much-needed birdie, then Woods followed with a pinpoint approach on the ferocious 10th hole to set up a birdie kick. Tiger was back, baby! Cue the references to Arnie’s accusations.
Then the bogeys of 11 and 12 shook the golf world. A day earlier, we dreamed of the most epic victory imaginable; now, suddenly, Woods missing the cut here for the first time since becoming an amateur in 1996 was a very real possibility. However, even the golf gods, so often critical and vengeful, can get carried away with Tigermania. The wind set for Woods on the back nine, and heading for the green for 13 at 252 yards – after a short drive – he made his worst swing of the day with a 5 wood; it was so bad woods prom expired to the right of Rae’s Creek, allowing him to go up and down for a gift-wrapped birdie. So energized, he played a shrewd approach on 14 and made his fourth birdie in seven holes. (It’s the fourth decade in which he’s birdied 13 and 14 in the same round; hats off to Justin Ray.) Woods’ iron game will never cease to amaze. He parried from there for a 74 which, given the hard start, was just as impressive as his first-round salvo. “It was a good fight,” Woods said. “I went back to the ball game.” Abraham Ancer was a bit more expansive when asked to identify Woods’ X factor: “That mentality of never giving up and always rising above adversity – so many things make him what he is.”
It is Woods’ 22nd straight cut at the Masters, the third-longest streak in tournament history, although he fell from 10th to 19th and is now nine strokes off the lead. of a burning Scottie Scheffler. On the bright side, Woods is only four shots a second. Tiger has a way of distorting perspective, but he’s needed now more than ever in this hot culture. All those second-round bogeys — and whatever happens over the weekend — can’t eclipse the biggest takeaways from this Masters: Tiger Woods is playing golf again and we can all watch. Competitive rust was inevitable considering it was his first real tournament in nearly a year and a half. Challenges with his surgically reconstructed right foot and his once mutilated leg were to be expected on the steep, rain-softened hills of Augusta National; Woods’ rehabilitation is ongoing and he is confident he will continue to go from strength to strength. There are already signs of progress as on the second lap Tiger seemed to have more speed with his rider and he actually looked a bit lighter on his feet, although he admitted by the way continued: “I don’t feel as good as I would like. … I can walk on this golf course. I can put on tennis shoes and go for a walk. That’s not a problem, but going ballistically on shots and hitting shot forms on uneven lies presents a whole new challenge.
Meanwhile, even Woods’ putative opponents were swept away by the display of residual talent and endless heart he displayed in the first two rounds. “You just shot so hard for him,” said Harold Varner III. “Obviously he’s great for the sport. You just want to see him do well.
“As a competitor, I guess as a fan, it’s pretty special to have him back,” Tyrrell Hatton said. “He has an aura around him and his record speaks for itself. We’re lucky he’s playing this week.
“Yeah, that’s awesome,” Will Zalatoris said after his second round. “Yesterday I was walking 6, and you see people 15 deep around 16 when he birdied, and he threw a little punch. I mean, I used to see that on TV. Obviously, seeing it in person is pretty cool. People always talk about how he moves the needle, but he’s the needle. It’s the first time for me that I’ve been in a field where I’ve seen it firsthand, and it’s incredible. It’s really cool.”
From pro to pro, players have seen enough glimmers of the former Tiger to know he remains a threat. Said Viktor Hovland, “I feel like even now, when he’s maybe not at his best, you see the moments here and there that sort of separate him from everyone else: the clean strike of the ball, making clutch putts, never giving up, always hanging on and fighting. I just love the charisma he has when he plays golf.
Watching Woods rise from a hospital bed to race at the Masters has already sparked debate about where that performance fits in the Tiger pantheon. Zalatoris couldn’t resist going when I asked him what makes Tiger Woods Tiger Woods. “I mean, I could give you 25 accolades, and there are even more,” Zalatoris said. “He has 15 majors. He has won 82 times. He is the greatest of all time. Obviously considering he came back after what he got and he’s playing it [caliber] of golf, you could say that’s probably his greatest accomplishment. I mean, it’s pretty amazing.
This raises another question, which at first glance seems ridiculous but needs to be asked: can a 46-year-old man with a surgically repaired knee and Achilles tendon, a fused spinal cord and a metal foot win this Masters? ? Marc Leishman pointed out that Woods’ advantages are metaphysical. “It’s up in his brain,” Leishman said. “Everyone’s brain is wired differently, and they have this determination and work ethic. It’s both. If he does, you won’t spare him anything.