Too-perfect shot costs Tiger
It was the perfect shot.
So perfect that, perversely, it cost Tiger Woods a two-stroke penalty.
And now he must hope it won’t cost him his first major in almost five years.
Woods lost two shots on a turbulent Friday at the Masters not because he was slow — like Chinese eighth-grader Tianlang Guan, who was harshly assessed a slow-play penalty by tone-deaf officials — but because he hit a shot that was too accurate.
On the 15th hole, Woods’ third into the par 5 was a little hold-off 60-degree wedge that was so laser-like, it hit the flagstick.
But instead of stopping and leaving him a birdie putt that would’ve given him the outright lead at Augusta National, his ball caromed off the flagstick, scurried across the green and found the pond that guards the front of the green.
Woods was shielding the sun from his eyes and couldn’t see clearly, but the gasps from the galleries told him he’d found the wrong side of luck.
Ironic, given how many times luck has smiled upon him in his 14 major wins.
From the iconic chip here on 16 in 2005 that hung on the lip for an eternity before dropping to the putt that defied gravity on the final hole of the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, Woods has been lucky in majors.
And he wasn’t too happy about his fortunes changing.
“I was pretty pissed,” Woods said. “It was looking like I’m making birdie, and next thing you know I’ve got to struggle and grind not to drop two shots.”
That he did, admirably, limiting the damage.
Woods took his drop — about 2 yards away from the scene of the crime — and caressed the same wedge to about 4 feet.
Hours later, the shot raised questions of whether the world's No. 1 golfer could face disqualification. There was debate in the Twittersphere on Friday night over whether the drop was illegal, and whether Woods therefore signed an incorrect card, which could lead to his disqualification. Augusta National's rules committee reviewed the drop Saturday morning and assessed a two-stroke penalty, dropping Woods five shots off the lead but leaving him in the tournament.
He made the putt for bogey on a hole where two other players with their eyes on a green jacket — Dustin Johnson and Jim Furyk — both had earlier made disastrous double bogeys after also finding the pond.
But that good work — and the good pars he salvaged on 14, 16 and 17 — was undone by a moment of madness on the final hole.
Woods has struggled in recent years on the 18th, but rarely has he made a more careless bogey than the one he made in the Friday evening dusk.
Woods’ lag putting has been exceptional through the first two days, but he showed hands of concrete on a 30-foot downhill putt that led to a three-putt bogey.
He signed for a 1-under round of 71 that left a sour taste in his mouth.
“I thought I played really well today,” he said. “A round that should’ve been in the 60s. My score didn’t indicate how well I played.”
Unfortunately, they only add up numbers in golf, and Woods — who shot 38 on the easier incoming nine — finished at 3 under through two rounds.
He might have felt like he should have been leading — and he well could have been — but the reality is that he’s three shots off the lead of Australian Jason Day, who is up one on Fred Couples and Marc Leishman going into the weekend.
Given the fact that he’s never come from behind to win a major, Woods has left himself a lot of work to do on Saturday. If there is a Saturday for him.
If he was looking for harbingers, they weren’t good.
In his four previous Masters victories, Woods has starred in the second round, three times shooting 66 and once a 69.
Indeed, in the past 12 years, the eventual champion here shot a second round in the 60s in all but two years — the bleak Masters of 2007, when Zach Johnson shot 1-over to win, and in 2006, another difficult year when Phil Mickelson won.
Woods is certainly not out of the tournament, and can feel good about his putting on Friday as well as the fact that at one point he’d hit 13 straight fairways going back to the first round.
But there’s another side to that story, too: He missed the fairway on both par 5s on the inward nine, 13 and 15.
From the short grass, both those holes are routine birdies, but Woods couldn’t convert a 10-footer on 13, then made the bogey on 15.
He also failed to birdie the second, another par 5, again on Friday.
What do these holes have in common?
They require high draws, clearly a shot that gives Woods trouble with the driver.
He will need to figure it out, though, because the key to winning a fifth Masters is to birdie the four par 5s. Another two days of playing them at just 2-under won’t get it done.
Woods, though, seemed up for the challenge.
“There's a long way to go,” he said. “We got 36 holes and this is a tricky test.”