Tiger Woods recovery on plan on the golf course

Kultida Woods was worried.

No, her son wasn’t being slapped with divorce papers. No

mistresses or porn stars were stalking him.

But he did seem on the verge of throwing away any chance he had

to win the Masters. And at this moment that seemed like the most

critical part of Tiger Woods’ recovery so far.

“Bogey?” Mrs. Woods yelled out from her vantage point off the

seventh fairway. “Come on now, stop that.”

Woods was plenty worried himself. He couldn’t figure out the

speed of the greens, some of his shots were going sideways, and two

early birdies seemed like a distant memory.

And that thing he promised about controlling himself on the golf

course? One bad swing on the par-3 sixth took care of that.

“Tiger, you suck,” Woods muttered, before adding a curse for

good measure. All caught by the CBS microphones, of course, for the

listening pleasure of millions watching an afternoon of Masters

drama play out on a gorgeous Saturday.

Informed that he cursed, Woods said, “Did I? If I did, then I’m

sorry.”

Being Tiger Woods once meant never having to say you’re sorry.

So count that in Woods’ favor, even if weeks in therapy haven’t

changed everything about the world’s greatest golfer.

Indeed, after a wild round left him still within striking

distance on Sunday, it was clear one vital thing was still the same

– Woods still has the resolve that made him so feared for so many

years.

“That’s fine. That’s never a problem,” Woods said, referring

to his mental toughness before repeating himself for emphasis.

“That’s not a problem.”

No, the problem was the swing that had served Woods so well in

the first two days of his comeback from a scandal that sent him

into rehab for reasons he refuses to disclose. The putter

disappeared for long stretches, too, in an erratic round that

seemed to confound Woods as much as it did his mother.

Kultida Woods couldn’t do anything about it, though she offered

a running commentary to Nike chairman Phil Knight as they followed

her son around the course, and following them was a uniformed

deputy sheriff.

After Woods hit his first putt up a big hill and well past the

hole on No. 6, she explained to Knight that the putt was just too

tough.

“If you do not putt it hard it will come down,” she said.

“It’s a hard putt. A hard putt.”

Missing from the small entourage was Woods’ wife, Elin, but that

was hardly a surprise. How things stand between Woods and his wife

only they know, though it wouldn’t be hard to guess that the

marriage remains a work in progress.

It’s not hard to guess what this Masters means to Woods, either.

Returning to the place he feels most comfortable was a big step in

his comeback from public ridicule, and getting into contention

after two rounds was an even bigger step in proving he still has

his magic touch.

Saturday wasn’t nearly as easy, despite two birdies on the first

three holes that moved Woods to within one shot of the lead. He had

struggled on the practice range, and the swing was not there once

play began no matter how hard he tried to find it.

He was seven shots back and heading in the wrong direction when

he plunked it in the sand on the par-3 12th. But he got up-and-down

for par, then went birdie-birdie-birdie before following a bogey on

No. 17 with a birdie on the final hole.

The final tally was seven birdies and five bogeys, but it could

have been a lot worse. It left him tied for third, four strokes

back of Lee Westwood and three behind Phil Mickelson.

More importantly, it left him with a smile on his face as he

walked off the 18th green.

“I fought as hard as I possibly could to get myself back in the

ballgame,” Woods said. “At one point I was seven back and to

fight back there and to get it where I’m only four back right now

was a pretty big accomplishment.”

Fighting back seems to be a recurring theme here for Woods, who

the day before likened his return to golf to that of Ben Hogan

following the 1949 car accident that nearly took his life. That was

an unfortunate comparison at best, considering his own accident

resulted in just five stitches to his lip and was of his own

making.

Then there’s the Nike ad that invokes the voice of his late

father. Woods thinks it’s “apropos.” It’s not. It’s creepy and

exploitative, with the words of Earl Woods taken out of

context.

None of that bothered the thousands who swarmed around him on

every hole Saturday, trying to get a look at Woods in action. They

cheered for him from the first tee to the 18th green, excited to

see him in the mix again.

Woods seemed almost as excited to be there himself, on a day

when roars cascaded across Augusta National and it felt more like a

final round. He was in contention again, and he seemed as if he

almost couldn’t wait to get to the driving range to figure out what

was wrong with his swing so he could fix it for Sunday.

There may be a few curse words then, too. Woods, after all, is

new to the gentleman part of a gentleman’s game.

Fans may cover their ears, but no one will cover their eyes.

Woods in red on Sunday in the next-to-last group at the Masters is

compelling enough even in normal times.

And if the last five months have proved anything, these are not

normal times.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated

Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org