Tiger won't win Masters, but he's headed in right direction
I can't remember being so excited to watch a golf tournament as I was this week going into the Masters. Not just because it's the Masters or because of the chance for Rory McIlroy to complete the career grand slam. No, I wanted to watch for the same reasons you want to see a crash at a NASCAR race.
I wanted to see the return of Tiger Woods. And I wanted to see if he'd fall apart.
Earlier this week, I wrote an article about his struggles with the chipping yips and how overcoming something like that isn't easy, even for an all-time great. Seve Ballesteros couldn't do it. David Duval hasn't done it. And Ian Baker Finch definitely didn't do it. I thought I would be proved right. Well ...
After two rounds at Augusta, it seems I have to eat just a little bit of crow. Tiger is 2 under par, tied for 19th going into the weekend. If not for the incredible play of Jordan Spieth and Charley Hoffman, he might actually be considered in the hunt. Tiger is just one shot behind 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott. He's tied with 2012 and 2014 Masters champ Bubba Watson. Rory McIlroy, winner of the last two major championships, is also right next to Tiger at 2 under.
For his part, Tiger isn't giving up.
"I'm still right there," Tiger told reporters after his round. "I'm 12 back (behind leader Spieth), but there's not a lot of guys ahead of me. And with 36 holes here to go, anything can happen, you know. ... There's so many holes to play and so many different things can happen."
Despite the wishful thinking, Tiger Woods isn't winning the Masters this year. But for once he wasn't a wreck. When he birdied the eighth hole Friday to move to 1 under, it marked the first time Woods had been under par in a tournament since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last August (not counting the Tiger-hosted Hero World Challenge). And he's playing about as well as a host of others who were considered favorites going into the week.
Before I go proclaiming that Woods is back and ready to break Jack Nicklaus' record for major wins, though, I'm going to need a little more convincing. There were many times I played with Tiger at his best. Once, I shot a career-high 85 playing with him at Kapalua in 2002, but it was windy, dammit! So believe me when I tell you, everything he did was easy to him. And it seemed impossible to the rest of us. I want to see just a glimmer of that, and so far at Augusta I'm not yet seeing it.
It is obvious to see that he isn't 100 percent comfortable with his game. After all, he is 12 shots behind Spieth — and holy Toledo, how good is that guy right now? — and one behind 94-year-old Mark O'Meara (he may be a few years younger; I'll look it up later). Tiger looked like a player who hadn't played a tournament in a couple of months. There were several very crooked drives and at least one shanked fairway wood. He also called himself a "dumbass" at one point on Thursday, but at least those chili dip chips and bladed bunker shots haven't happened. Actually, his short game has been pretty solid. Maybe not up to old Tiger standards, but those standards were awfully darn high.
In my professional opinion, I can't give him a clean bill of health from the yips just yet. Golf does have a way of picking you up just so it can smack you right back down. Trust me, because it's been doing it to me for years. But his game may be off life support, and that's no small accomplishment.
"Very proud of what I've done, to be able to dig it out the way I have," Woods said.
"I told you guys on Tuesday, I was at a pretty low (point) in my career. But to basically change an entire pattern like that and put it together and put it in a position where I can compete in a major championship like this," Woods added, "is something I'm very proud of."
He's fighting hard, and, who knows, in a few months we could actually see him back to his old ways. Stealing money and trophies away from the other players like some kind of reverse Santa Claus.
No more watching Tiger for the car wrecks.