AUGUSTA, Ga. — On April 10, 2005, at the 16th hole at Augusta, Tiger Woods crafted the finest highlight of his career, a delicate chip shot that stuck, curled and hung for an eternity on the lip of the hole before dropping in.
Seven years later almost to the day, at the exact same hole, Woods had one of his worst on-course meltdowns as a pro. Sending his tee shot wide right into the bunker that lines the green, Woods dropped his club in disgust, then kicked it out of the tee box. At a course that frowns on an indiscretion as minor as as running, it was the equivalent of wiping your nose on a green jacket.
The irony of the tantrum is that Woods' tee shot wasn't that bad, and he managed to escape the hole with just a bogey. But it was emblematic of a round that began with such promise — two birdies in the first three holes — only to cascade into a cringe-worthy collection of missed putts and missed opportunities.
If Bay Hill was the Tiger Woods of old, inexorably grabbing and then holding the lead, Friday at Augusta was the Tiger Woods of 2010-11, fumbling around on a familiar course and looking on every single shot like disaster was imminent. He sent shots into the sand, into the woods, into the crowd ... pretty much everywhere but into the hole. His body language was beyond rotten, all slumped shoulders and frustration ... a marked contrast to playing partner Miguel Angel Jimenez, who strutted and wielded his club like he was preparing for batting practice.
What makes watching Woods such a frustrating experience is that even now, all hope is not lost. He finished the round at +3, one shot better than his worst performance ever at the Masters, but even so he's only eight strokes behind the leader. That's a huge gap, but with two days left to play, not an insurmountable one. Just last year, Woods cut seven strokes off the lead in one day.
At Augusta, Woods has the potential to step up and tap into the old mojo, to plug back into the vibe that won him four green jackets. But now, he's also got the potential to implode, to make a mockery of the last two days of Augusta the way that he destroyed Atlanta Athletic Club at the PGA Championship last summer.
Either way, Tiger won't have a problem letting us know how he feels.
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