Tiger Woods’ record cuts at Augusta is testament to his never back down mentality

Tiger Woods' record cuts at Augusta is testament to his never back down mentality
Tiger Woods salutes the spectators after completing his second round at Augusta National where he made the cut on Friday - Reuters/Mike Blake

Few imagined, when Tiger Woods’ shattered car was retrieved from a Los Angeles ravine, that he would appear in another Masters at all. The toll on his right leg, with multiple fractures requiring the insertion of screws, pins and a metal rod, left even his close friend Justin Thomas feeling sick to his stomach. But here he was in Augusta’s afternoon sunshine, basking in the glow of making his 24th successive cut, the latest record of a staggering career and the first quantifiable feat of his post-crash era.

Woods dwelt fleetingly on what this meant to him, acknowledging only that it proved his longevity. He loathes being cast as some aged grandee. Instead, he wanted to highlight his credentials as a contender over the weekend, reminding his doubters that even at 48, with an assortment of titanium apparatus holding his body together, he still could not be dismissed as a threat.

Perish the thought. Woods demonstrated, with his astounding comeback from scandal and arrest to win a fifth Green Jacket in 2019, how any attempt at penning his professional obituary was a fool’s errand. In reality, his final 36 holes need to surpass even the miracle of five years ago for him to stand the slightest chance of a 16th major title. But whatever he does from here, he has an accomplishment that nobody can take away, a landmark moment that hauls him clear of Gary Player and Fred Couples as the most consistent performer in Masters history.

Woods and Couples are close friends, living near each other in Jupiter, Florida. When they played a pre-tournament practice round, Couples noted how the five-time champion did not mishit a single shot, emphasising that he was “here to win”. Given the patience with which Woods has held his first two rounds together, that statement looks anything but hyperbolic. His 29 years of experience on this course have taught him when to push and when to settle for pars.

This was a day for taking the second option, with Augusta’s cornflower-blue skies disguising a capricious wind that wrought havoc on the leaderboard. At times players had to wipe sand from their eyes as it blew out of the delicately-raked hazards. But through Amen Corner, Woods was poise personified, navigating those three treacherous holes without dropping a shot. Even when he flirted with trouble at the last, hoiking his approach left of the greenside bunker, he produced a delicious chip that reflected what he calls his “Rolodex” of mental notes about this course.

Clearly, the exertions of playing 23 holes in one day had drained him. You winced at how creaky he looked each time he bent down to collect his tee. But after signing his card, Woods gave the waiting crowd the rarest of sightings: a smile. It has been a reaction seldom seen since he veered off that road in Ranchos Verdes, California, at 87mph. He has only completed all four days of a major once in the three years since, at the 2022 Masters, where he looked ruined by the end.

This time, by contrast, he felt renewed. All he required, he said, was some food and some caffeine, and he would be ready to go once more. We shall soon discover if that confidence is well-founded. For now, it is simply a relief to hear him sounding optimistic. Since the 2021, the narrative of Woods has been a drumbeat of doom, sustained by his recent admission that he ached everywhere. But however much he is hurting, his competitive thirst is far from quenched.

He describes how is still motivated by the thrill of the chase, practising as much as his health will allow to prepare himself for these occasions. The trouble is that they have become increasingly infrequent. Even his modest prediction last December that he could play one event per month has yet to materialise. He has retreated so far to the margins that he has fallen to 950th in the world rankings. But at Augusta, his manor, he is a man reborn.

Woods stressed how the very honour of being able to turn up was not one he took for granted. “There’s such an aura and mystique about this course that, unless you have played and competed here, you probably don’t really appreciate,” he said. These opportunities are, as he is all too conscious, finite. For him now to have a record to show for his efforts since the crash is priceless. “As soon as I’m done with you guys, I’ll text Freddy and give him a little needle,” he told reporters after surpassing Couples’ landmark. And with that, he headed off to begin his post-round rehabilitation. It might be a battered, reduced Woods that we are witnessing, but we can be sure he will never shirk the fight.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.