AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s about 50 yards from the clubhouse at Augusta National to the first tee. In the hours before the leaders tee off on Masters Sunday, the area’s thick with patrons sipping Arnold Palmers and breathing deep of the prestige of the place. Players walking from the driving range to the tee have to navigate this thicket of privilege, their caddies lugging clubs right through the middle of it all.
But for one golfer, the patrons still part like water around a rock. Around 11 a.m. Sunday morning, Tiger Woods – clad in the traditional Sunday red-and-black – walked through the applauding crowd, nodding in appreciation as he went.
“He looked at me,” said one gentleman.
“He smiled at me!” said his female companion.
Woods, who finished the 2018 Masters at 1-over, still gets better treatment than any other golfer – after he passed through, the tunnel through the crowd collapsed, and Bernhard Langer had to edge his way through patrons still talking Tiger. But why? Woods never played well enough this week to even catch sight of the top of the leaderboard, never gave patrons hope that they were seeing anything other than a guy whose best days on this course were more than a decade ago. So why the continued obsession?
Because he’s Tiger freakin’ Woods, y’all. What more reason do you need?
Woods may win a major, or he may not. He may win a tournament, or he may not. The simple truth is that Woods isn’t nearly as good as he once was, but he’s better than we expected he’d be again. So how do we break down his first Masters since 2015? Like this.
What grade does Tiger’s Masters week get?
Well, it depends on how you’re grading. Against the standards of old Tiger at Augusta, this week gets a D-minus at best. The Tiger Woods of old would tee off in the final groups on Sunday, but this time around he’d almost finished before the leaders began. Judged against the standards of all PGA Tour golfers, he’d get a gentleman’s C, a passing grade justified by the fact that he made the cut and did little else. But on his own standards, based on the fact that he hasn’t made a cut in a major in three years, and wasn’t ever expected to compete at any level? Well, that bumps him all the way up to a B for the week.
What went right?
Well … he’s playing, and he made the cut. That in itself is notable, given the fact that six months ago, you could write a eulogy to Woods’ career and not be out of line. Plus, Woods scorched the course on a pressure-free Sunday. The cheers from Woods’ eagle on 15 resonated around the entire course. He carded a 3-under 69 Sunday his only under-par round of the tournament.
What went wrong?
Woods came into the week wayward off the tee but strong with his approaches and putts. He still sprayed the ball, but couldn’t approach with any kind of consistency, and couldn’t putt once he got on the green. In short, he was decent enough to make the cut by a stroke, but too ragged to do anything more.
“My swing is slightly off,” Woods said after the round. “I was pleased with the way I was able to drive it, but I just could not convert with my irons … can’t control the shape. Can’t control the distance.”
What was his best shot?
It meant almost nothing, but a Sunday eagle at 15, a hole that’s bedeviled Woods in the past, helped ease the pain of the week:
What was his worst?
Day 1, tee 1, shot 1. Woods pulled his opening drive into the trees. He never plays the first at Augusta particularly well, but this was the first sign that all would not be well this week.
When will we see Woods next?
He’s remaining coy, as always, but odds are he’ll be back for The Players in May, and then we’re on to the rest of the majors. The fact we’re talking about Woods’ schedule as if each event isn’t a landmark step forward is, in itself, notable. Tiger Woods is back … maybe not all the way, but back all the same.
“For a couple of years, I’ve just been coming here just to eat,” Woods said. “And now to be able to play this golf course and to be able to tee it up and play in the Masters, this is one of the greatest walks in all of golf. And I had missed it.”
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