AUGUSTA, Ga. – Forget the fact that Tiger Woods hit his tee shot into a right fairway bunker on the second hole of his Monday practice round at Augusta National.
The majority of fans surrounding the green at the downhill par-5 probably didn’t see him pull it out of the bunker and place it in the fairway anyway.
They did see Woods’ 3-wood approach sail long of the putting surface, and they definitely saw when Woods trickled a downhill chip gently into the cup for what seemed like an eagle-3.
The crowd roared and Woods raised his arm in acknowledgment.
Like that chip on two, few know the exact path Woods took from rock bottom to where he is now. All they know is that he’s back at the Masters, where he played nine holes Monday afternoon with Fred Couples and Justin Thomas.
“If you watched him play today, there’s not much of a back problem,” Couples said. “He’s hitting it a long way, and it looks beautiful. Today wasn’t any different than it was 10 years ago when I played with him. It was pretty awesome.”
Woods added another highlight at the downhill par-3 sixth hole, throwing an iron all over the flag and sinking the birdie putt.
First timers in the gallery were at a severe disadvantage because following three generations of major champions means knowing which spots to avoid and where to post up for the best sight lines. (For future reference, many are unwilling to hike all the way up eight. The right side of the green directly across from the leaderboard has shade and views of the eighth green and ninth tee.)
“No matter where (Woods) goes, it’s unbelievably loud and it’s really cool. It’s even cooler here,” Thomas said. “That’s the thing about this place. There’s no other tournament you hear the roars in a practice round.”
Couples said he and Woods had been talking about playing a practice round at Augusta for months, and Couples wasn’t disappointed with what he saw on the course.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Couples said. “I don’t see him much, but as far as being around him, I just love the guy. Today the atmosphere was awesome. People were excited to see him and see him play well. It’s always nice to see someone, but when they’re doing what they do and they’re doing it well, it makes for a pretty good atmosphere.”
Couples will play nine holes with Woods again on Tuesday, along with three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson and Thomas Pieters.
“I think Thomas and I will just hang out and watch,” Couples said.
A smiling Woods zipped past reporters huddled under the large oak tree in front of the clubhouse, with caddie Joe LaCava serving as lead blocker. He’s scheduled for a 1 p.m. press conference Tuesday, his first at Augusta National since 2015. And everything Couples saw Monday indicates Woods will be good to go when the Masters begins on Thursday.
“It’s hard to play when you’re not feeling good,” said Couples, who has dealt with back pain for much of his career. “When you’re the best player, maybe you don’t want to play unless you’re feeling good, because then you just (could) become a semi-mediocre player. I wouldn’t want to do that if I was the best player for 20 years. … Now he’s ready to play. There’s a huge difference, and he’s playing really well.”