Of Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist
I didn’t always want to Tiger Woods to win. Forget that. There were times when I was lucky enough to see him lose.
Not out of defiance or for any good reason. Certainly not for anything personal; I do not know him. But there were times during Woods’ extraordinary heyday that forever revolutionized golf, when it was easier to cheer for someone else.
While it was always incredible to see Woods do his thing and dominate golf’s fiendliest courses and best players, it was occasionally human nature to want another player to have his moment in the sun to see how a fresh contender prevails.
It’s almost impossible not to cheer this latest version of Woods, the greatest golfer of all time.
This is the human version, the flawed version, the one who has every pain visible in his face and in his gait and feels 46 years old in every way, but decided to show up at the Masters anyway.
During a mixed but ultimately very satisfying round Thursday that captivated both Augusta National and a global audience, Woods was as intriguing as ever. There were pieces of everything, every piece of his game, every segment of his story. Woods finished 1-under and had par 13, but that was anything but ordinary.
At times, Woods looked like his early 20s self, evoking the spectacular, using physical strength and mental dexterity to squeeze his way out of trouble or go into attack mode.
Then he came back to reality, the intermittent inconsistency, some tee shots where his body let him down, which resembled the balance of a man who was in a serious and frightening car accident 14 months ago and had stabbing back and knee problems long before that.
Two tigers were playing in the Georgia sun. There was the guy for whom the clock would occasionally turn back when things were going smoothly. Like a beautiful tee shot on the par 3 seventh that only required a tap-in birdie. Or on 13, the first of his usually favorite par 5s, which he played in true Tiger fashion. Or on 16 – 16, of course – where a long putt took him under par.
Then there was the guy who fought his way through and felt the pinch of nearly five hours on the course in what was his first competitive action since late 2020. The Augusta audience was all-in for both versions.
The guests cried out for Woods’ trio of birdies, cheered on his collection of impressive par saves and sympathized with him for the two bogeys he refused to let derail.
His day had started with a larger gathering of people watching his workout than any other group walking the actual course during the day. By the time Woods wandered from the clubhouse to the first tee and the crowd parted, it was 40 deep. Everyone wanted to see that.
Solid and stable was the order of the day on the opening holes as he worked his way through the top five, a tricky collection that left nobody much room for fireworks.
Dressed in pink, Woods uncorked his first birdie on the sixth hole. He probably wanted to play with himself, but once he got off on a couple of thunderous rides, it was something to watch. It doesn’t have the same explosiveness off the tee anymore, but it’s still one hell of a big swing, full of power and style.
Woods is a physical specimen these days, but a complicated one. Stiffness gripped him, and as the pace of play slowed around the turn, he too did his rounds momentarily.
Thursday rounds are usually not that dramatic and complicated. If you’ve watched the show and sometimes felt like you were trying to put the ball in the hole, you weren’t alone.
In the end it was good work. Woods stayed in contention and didn’t play his way out of the Masters like so many did on opening day. Leader Cam Smith dropped a few late shots to slip to 4-under and give the chasing group added incentive.
With Woods, the recording was sometimes so detailed, the tension so present, that you took your eyes off the story. The reason he has all this support is not just because of what he’s accomplished, but what it’s taken to get here.
Woods fought demons. Infidelity led to marital failure and public shame, and his car accident led most to believe he would never again swing a racquet in a competitive setting.
Yet here he was, stepping out and showing that he can still compete at a level most can’t comprehend. Trying to achieve an overwhelming triumph because he doesn’t know any other way, perhaps not even realizing he’s already won just by being here.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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