Masters 2022: Tiger Woods roars again at Augusta National | Golf News and Tour Information

AUGUSTA, Ga. — A little before 11 a.m. on Masters Thursday, Tiger Woods burst through the back door of the Augusta National clubhouse. The air was tinged with tension, as if he were a grizzled gunslinger arriving at a Wild West saloon, spoiled for a shootout. A human corridor had already formed that stretched to the first tee, made up of fans, journalists, green jackets and even Hall of Famers Hale Irwin and Ian Woosnam. No matter who you are, the energy and excitement generated by Woods’ return to the Masters was inevitable. But there was no bravado in Tiger’s red footsteps. He was coming off his most gritty shooting session of the week, looking stiffer and less explosive after four days of grinding on his game in practice rounds. When Woods walked through the clubhouse door and saw the sea of ​​humanity pouring out before him, he closed his eyes for a few beats even as the unseen forces of fate pulled him towards the tee box. It was a brief meditation punctuated by shouts from the fans. The dizziness of the crowd contrasted with the placidity of Woods’ face and the economy of motion with which he moved. Fans had come for a party, a coronation, a Hogan-esque ticker tape parade minus the floating newsprint. Tiger just wanted to go to work.

Then came the words that, in the wake of Woods’ horrific car crash in February 2021, many feared would never ring out again: “Before, please, Tiger Woods is driving now.” The first swing of his final act was a wiped, spinny heel slice that expired in the good rough, well short of the fairway bunker. Just for old times, Woods mumbled, “Gawdammit.” (He would later unleash a returning F-bomb.) But even that slightly temperamental ride represented some kind of progress, considering how many masterful rounds Woods started with howling hooks in the ninth fairway. The crowd – one of the largest ever seen around Augusta National – was still roaring. Tiger rode down the fairway, taking extra care on the steep, rain-smoothed hills. Irwin, a badass who was an All-Big Eight defensive back on the football field before winning three US Open titles, has seen some things. He shook his head as he watched Woods leave. “It kind of defies belief,” Irwin said.

Woods has always excelled in reinvention; he won his five Masters with five different golf swings. And yet, this latest comeback is the most outrageous yet. A career full of violent swings and over-the-top training methods has shattered his body: a torn ACL, tibia stress fractures, a blown Achilles, microdiscectomy surgeries, spinal fusion. To numb the pain – real and metaphysical – Tiger abused pills to the point of receiving a DUI, an arrest that sent his confused mugshot and dashcam video of a proud athlete who couldn’t walk straight all over the world. way. It was the second scandal of a very complicated public life.

But all of this was just a prelude to the journey back to that Master. There are 26 bones in the human foot and, according to someone close to Woods, he broke 20 in his car accident. Amputation was a real possibility for his withered right leg. And now, after more than a year of excruciating rehabilitation, he was carefully navigating the long walk along Augusta National’s steep second fairway. The once noisy crowd held its collective breath.

Woods’ golf was also cautious as he went point-to-point for five opening pars. Then, on the par-3 sixth hole, he ripped a 6-iron that never left the flagstick. The birdie tap-in put him among the early leaders and the sentiment among his legion of fans — at Augusta National and across golf Twitter — transcended joy and blossomed into something deeper: gratitude. . Tiger Woods birdies again at the Masters and we are witnessing it. What a time to live.

On the front nine, Woods drove the ball beautifully but squandered his scoring chances with slightly inaccurate iron shots and sloppy work with his holds. (On both par 5s, he was a stone’s throw from the green in two shots but played them in a combination.) He made a pair of crucial par saves (10 feet on the first, six feet on the ninth), suggesting that at age 46, his nerve and stroke remain healthy.

Woods had some nice ups and downs at 10 and 11, then came back to one under with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 13th that was set up by a pair of deftly played shots. During practice rounds, he never played more than nine holes a day, and Tiger made a tired swing on the 14 tee, clipping a drive into the trees, which led to a bogey. A hook on the next tee forced him to lie on the watery par-5 and resulted in a slightly disappointing par. But at 16, Woods woke fans up by slamming a 29-footer for a birdie that swept across the belly of the green, reminiscent of Jack Nicklaus’ “Bear tracks” putt in 1975. Although the putt prompted a small fist pump , Woods had the good sense not to raise his putter in triumph, because it’s only Thursday. In the end, he fired his drive into the trees, but was relieved of standing water and saved a scrambling par with a great corner. His one-under 71 left him tied for ninth as he exited the course, a victory by all accounts.

“I can swing a golf club,” Woods said afterwards, stating the obvious. “The walk is not easy, it is difficult. Like I said, with all the hard work, my leg is going to be tough for the rest of my life. It’s like that, but I’m able to do it. I am very lucky to have this opportunity to be able to play, and not only, to play in the Masters and to have this type of welcome. I mean, the place was electric.

When the first shocking footage of his car crash was made public, it was impossible not to wonder if Woods would ever leave his hospital bed. But he rose, to ever greater heights.

Michael C. Ford