Woods brings roars to the Masters, even on Monday
April 02, 2018
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Act III, Part 5: Tiger Woods contends at Arnold Palmer
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods and Fred Couples spent months discussing their Monday practice round at Augusta National. The patrons had been waiting so much longer.
When Woods teed off at 2:55 p.m. Monday, it was the first time he’d played Augusta National in public since the final round three years ago. He played Sunday of the 2015 Masters in the third-to-last group, shooting a 73 alongside Rory McIlroy. This latest round was an informal nine-hole affair, as Woods, Couples and Justin Thomas breezed around the first nine in little more than two hours.
The pent-up anticipation for Woods’ return, which has only increased in intensity with his promising play, was obvious from the roars he received for both the impressive, like his long chip-in from behind the second green, and the mundane. Woods was greeted by cheers each time he appeared on a tee box. Patrons even applauded when he asked caddie Joe LaCava for another ball on the fourth tee.
“There’s no other tournament you hear roars in a practice round,” said Thomas, one of the young stars many are hoping will challenge Woods in an intergenerational tussle on Sunday’s second nine.
Woods spent the two weeks since his last start visiting Augusta National and preparing in his backyard practice facility. There are four greens there. Three are meant to mimic geographic regions: the Northeast, his native California and his adopted home state of Florida. Only one is modeled after a specific course.
“The Augusta green is a little elevated with sharp aprons, a deep bunker and it’s always the fastest green in the facility. It’s firm and they mow the aprons around them extremely tight,” said his former Stanford teammate, Notah Begay. “That way, when he gets to Augusta it feels extremely normal for him.”
There’s little doubt he’d feel that way even without a dedicated practice area. No tournament has more defined Woods’ career, and he has impacted the event in a way few others have.
His 12-shot victory in his first Masters as a professional led to dramatic changes to Alister Mackenzie’s masterpiece. He completed the Tiger Slam here in 2001, won again in 2002 and then hit what may be the most memorable shot of his career, the chip-in from behind the 16th green that helped him hold off a gritty Chris DiMarco. Only Jack Nicklaus has won the Masters more times.
Woods has proven his ability to contend here even when in the midst of his deepest struggles, but he arrives at Augusta National this year showing his best form in five years. He contended at both the Valspar Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. He’s displayed strong iron play, a good short game and swing speed that’s comparable to the kids he’s now competing against.
Most courses are quiet this early in the week, but for some patrons Masters Monday is their Sunday. It’s their first time seeing a course they’ve admired for years, and they’re uncertain if they’ll ever be able to return. They were lined 10 deep on some holes. With cell phones banned from the grounds, point-and-shoot cameras, many of them saved for this single week each year, were raised in the air each time Woods approached. Patrons formed a human wall across many fairways as they stopped in the cross-walks to watch Woods’ pre-tournament preparations.
This is Augusta National, though, and the enthusiasm for Woods caused some to occasionally cross the line of staid decorum that is expected on these stately Southern grounds. Patrons were gently made aware of their transgressions by security guards in red hats and white shirts. Turns out it’s impermissible to prop another patron on your shoulders. Running isn’t allowed, and the shouts and some of the shouts and screams heard at other events are frowned upon here.
The excitement surrounding Woods is understandable, though. He’s finished outside the top 25 just once in 18 appearances as a professional, even when his game was in much worse shape. His last Masters start came just weeks after he shot 82 in Phoenix and took a self-imposed exile from the game. He started the final round in fifth place before fading to 17th. He finished fourth in 2010, even though he hadn’t played an event since the previous November because of his personal scandal.
Woods’ play Monday reminded Couples of the better days.
“He hit a few drives there that were well worth it, whether you paid for (admission) or whether you’re in the tournament like me,” Couples said. “Today wasn’t any different than it was 10 years ago when I played with him.
“I think he’ll be a factor this week. I don’t know why he wouldn’t be.”