Tiger Woods shows glimpses of days gone by as he returns to his happy hunting ground
Respect and worship. As Tiger Woods made his way up the slope towards the 18th green after traversing the hilly course, those who had gathered there gathered to give a standing ovation. The applause was not so much for his score – 71 – but rather for how the five-time Masters champion, 15-time Major champion, marked his latest comeback from crippling injuries with a display that offered a glimpse of in the old days.
While Australian Cameron Smith started and finished with double bogeys but still managed to sign off for a four-under 68 in a round that also included eight birdies, to claim the club lead, it is nonetheless Woods who stole the show.
His very participation in this last edition of the Masters had been questioned until this week; but, remarkably, in every 508 days since he last swung a club with a dash in his hand, in the final round of the 2020 Masters, he’s taken his body – complete with his plates, his screws and her rods – in a privileged place and brought with her a determination of spirit that allowed her to compete again.
One birdie in particular brought back the roars of yesteryear. On the 16th, where he had once audaciously entered the 2005 Masters, Woods rolled in a 15-footer for a birdie that put patrons on their feet and prompted decibel levels – after two years of limited participation – to echo all along the floors.
“I’m proud of my whole team,” Woods said of how he had worked to be fit and able to play, after the car crash in February last year that nearly cost him his life. loss of his right leg. “People have no idea how hard we worked every day. I alluded to it before, we never took a day off.
“So once I got out of bed after those three months, there were no more days off. Certainly there were days that were easier than others. My leg wasn’t working very well that day there we did the upper body. But we did something every day and that led me to this, to this opportunity to be able to play in the Masters and, oh surprise, here we are and for the moment , only three back. We have a long way to go, it’s a marathon and a lot can happen… it’s good to start on the right foot.
Although play was delayed 30 minutes due to overnight thunderstorms which sprinkled about two inches of rain onto the course, the day itself turned out to be dry, with swirling winds blowing through the cathedral pines to bring players sometimes to second and often to third. -guess the selection of the club and the execution of the shot.
Smith, appearing for the first time since lifting The Players last month, had a remarkable turn. It started with that double bogey and ended with another after a mad dash through the trees in the lower right, but in between there was an extraordinary display of shooting making eight birdies in a stretch of 12 holes from the fifth to the 16th.
“It was just really solid. I had a few bad tee shots on one and 18 and just a few corners in the green that we didn’t quite judge the wind for. Before you know it, you do six. This place will bite you in the butt pretty quickly if you’re not. [firing] on all cylinders. The stuff in the middle was really good,” said 2020 finalist Smith.
Just when it looked like Smith would part the field, the fashionable mullet-haired man let a loose jab slip. A six on the 18 brought him back, eventually signing for a 68 that gave him the clubhouse lead, one shot ahead of world number one Scottie Scheffler, former champion Danny Willett and Chilean Joaquin Niemann.
Scheffler, with three wins in his last five appearances, said: “I feel like my game is in a good place right now. Obviously I had some good finishes and I hope to continue that momentum this week.
Willett, winner in 2016, said: “The body is fine. And this place lends itself to some golf shots that we tried to work on and hit. That doesn’t mean you’re going to hit them obviously, but it’s always nice when the kind of stuff you worked for and what you worked for somehow pays off.
“That doesn’t mean they’re going to pay for the next three days, but it’s always nice to get a good start around this place.”
Séamus Power, in his Masters debut, finished with a brace, while Rory McIlroy – with a birdie in the second and a bogey in the sixth – pared level 36 over nine holes. He was one under until the 14th hole, but late bogeys there and at 16 saw him slip above par for his first effort.
On a day of tough scoring conditions, with tricky pin placements combined with the swirling wind, many struggled. Among them were Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChamebeau and Louis Oosthuizen, who all signed for the 76 and went into an immediate battle just to survive the midway cut.