Tiger looks like old self Friday at Augusta
AUGUSTA, Ga. - And so the world seemed to return to a familiar axis. Tiger Woods played as if the last year and a half never happened, as if the bumper never met the hydrant, as if there were no demons, no divorce, no scandal, no rehab, no swing overhaul, no scars.
On a beautiful Friday afternoon at Augusta National, Woods made nine birdies, shot 66 in the Masters second round and moved from a tie for 24th to T-3, three shots off Rory McIlroy’s 10-under-par lead.
He appeared more dialed in, more lethal, more old Woods than at any point since his last PGA Tour victory in September 2009. He looked like a man who has won 14 majors instead of someone who has had but one top 10 since June.
He rattled off birdie after birdie, six over eight holes, seven in one 10-hole stretch. He resembled not the laboratory rat of recent months but a dominant player who looks like he might collect his fifth green jacket. He woke up the echoes – not only with an energized gallery that watched him until 7 p.m. but probably in his own mind.
“He looked ominous,” playing competitor Graeme McDowell said accurately.
Here’s how good the round was: He vaulted up the board despite missing three putts inside 6 feet, for birdie at Nos. 4 and 16 and for par at No. 7.
Woods went on and on afterward about patience being the key to his round. “I was just plodding myself along, staying in the moment,” he said.
His best Masters score since 2005, when he tied a career-best 65 in the third round, was about more than plodding. It was something of a trophy dash.
“I got hot,” he said.
Tiger Woods at the Masters
Take a look back at Tiger Woods at the Masters tournaments through the years.
You could say that. He walked off the seventh green, where he three-putted, 10 strokes off the lead. He walked off the course, after birdieing 18 from 8 feet, only three back.
It was a charge we’ve seen before, that we had become so accustomed to, that we used to expect. But now it was a bit of a surprise, for he has been so inconsistent since he decided to overhaul his swing last summer in the midst of personal problems.
He acknowledged his swing Friday felt better and more second nature than it has since the tinkering began.
“Uh-huh,” he answered.
After an awkward pause, he smiled and said, “Do you want me to elaborate?”
“Yes,” the questioner said.
“It felt good,” he said, giving his version of elaboration.
There have been times in recent months when Woods looked so frustrated playing golf, when others questioned the need to change a swing that had fueled so much success.
But he was happy enough Friday night that he said, “It was nice going through the learning curve. It was positive. And here we are.”
We are here because he went cuckoo after a slow, inconsistent start. He bogeyed three of the first seven holes, including the first after driving in the bunker and No. 3 after a poor pitch that rolled back toward him. He mixed in birdies at Nos. 2 and 6, from 22 and 5 feet, respectively.
Then he took off after that three-putt at seven, birdieing the next three holes. He two-putted the eighth, holed a 7-footer at the ninth and made a 3-footer at 10. After saving par from 9 feet at 11 and making routine par at 12, he delivered another hat trick with birdies at 13-15. The first was from about 6 feet, the last two on tap-ins.
“He really started flighting his irons, which is what he does when he’s at his best,” McDowell said.
You could see the hop back in Woods’ step. And you could sense a sense of peace. After he flared a drive 35 yards right of the fairway on 11, so far right he had a clear shot on the other side of the pines, Woods noticed a man wearing the same style shirt as his.
“Nice shirt,” Woods cracked, drawing gallery laughter.
As for his current position, Woods refused to get carried away. More than once, he said this: “There’s a long way to go.”
That might be the case in this Masters. As for regaining his game, though, the uphill climb looks shorter and less steep.