AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods thought he was done.
It was two years ago, two nights before the Masters, when all the past champions gathered for dinner to honor the previous year’s winner. Woods was there, though he wouldn’t be competing that week. His back wouldn’t allow it.
Woods revealed exactly how bad it was Wednesday night at the Golf Writers Association of America dinner, where he was honored with the Ben Hogan Award, given to a player who continues to compete despite physical handicap or serious illness.
“In order to actually come to the dinner, I had to get a nerve block just to be able to walk and come to the dinner,” Woods explained. “It meant so much to me to be part of the Masters and be part of the Champions Dinner. I didn’t want to miss it. It was tough and uncomfortable.
“I ended up going to England that night after the dinner, saw a specialist there, they recommended that unfortunately the only way to get rid of the pain I was in — that I was living in — was to have the spinal fusion surgery. So I decided to go to Dr. Richard Guyer in Texas and I had the surgery.”
Golf, Woods said, was not in his near future, “or even distant future. I knew I was going to be a part of the game, but playing the game again? I couldn’t even do that with my son Charlie. I couldn’t even putt in my backyard.”
He had the surgery a few weeks later, but by September, his spine still wasn’t fully fused. He’d chip and putt, but that was it until he eventually got the go ahead to hit a driver. And when he did, well …
“Let’s say that first driver carried maybe 90 yards,” he said.
He launched his first drive at No. 1 to kick off his Masters 317 yards. He ended the day just one shot off the lead. In between, Tiger was more the Tiger of old than he’s been here at Augusta in years, nowhere more so than on 14.
Having just birdied the 13th, Woods drove his ball at 14 into the trees on the left. He faced a nearly impossible recovery shot — with a bevy of pines between him, the fairway and the pin 149 yards away. Oh, and the people. There are always people around Tiger, and this was no different. Accept a lot of them were basically between him and safety when he launched an iron over them, those trees, and a false edge on the front of the green.
Of course he drained the putt, bringing out a Tiger roar.
If Augusta wasn’t awake for this tournament already, it was then. The straw that stirs golf’s drink was in the lead at the Masters.
A bogey at 17 brought him back one, but that left him just one back of a group of three (Justin Harding, Adam Scott and Jon Rahm) leading at the time. The afternoon would bring a flurry of birdies, with Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau setting the pace at 6-under, putting Tiger four back — in a tie for 11th.
Not since 2010 has Tiger Woods been in this solid of position at Augusta after Round 1. Two years ago, that would have seemed impossible. Now, here he is.
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