AUGUSTA, Ga. – Amen Corner didn’t feel right.
It looked right, for sure, with bright colors popping and fans galore packing the gathering area near the 12th tee where you can see the 11th green and the tee shot at 13th.
But when Tiger Woods put his tee shot in the water on 12 after a bogey at 11, it sucked all the energy out of the scene. You’d have been hard pressed at that moment to find anyone who thought Woods still had a chance to contend. It felt like we were getting cheated, all this talk about the greatest Masters of all time and the biggest draw was shooting himself out of it early Thursday afternoon.
“I hit a terrible golf shot,” Woods said. “I was trying to take a 9-iron and just stuck it in the ground.”
Woods was 2 over at the time. When he dropped and left the wedge shot 15 yards from the cup it looked like the wheels were about to fall off completely.
You have to realize that fans aren’t allowed to cross Hogan’s Bridge, and trying to swim across Rae’s Creek for a closer look at the 12th green would probably result in a lifetime ban from the state of Georgia. Really the only way to know whether or not a player made a putt is to read their immediate reaction, then wait to see if they bend down to pick the ball out of the cup.
It was dead silent when Woods struck his bogey putt and he quickly walked toward the hole. Was he walking it in? Or walking to tap in a double bogey? A big cheer went up when he reached down and everyone realized he’d salvaged a bogey. Maybe Woods wasn’t dead yet.
Woods went on to make birdies at 14 and 16 and shot 1-over 73. It wasn’t what everyone had waited three years to see, but it wasn’t totally crippling either.
“I got myself back in this tournament, and I could have easily let it slip away,” Woods said. “And I fought hard to get it back in there, and I’m back in this championship. There’s a lot of holes to be played.”
The birdie at 14 was Woods’ first since No. 3, and there weren’t many of those famed roars we’ve heard about. There were a lot of groans, like when his tee shot at the par-3 fourth landed short in a bunker and led to the first of four bogeys on the day.
The roars sounded more like relief at 14, but Woods finally grabbed everyone’s attention with birdie at the amphitheater-style, par-3 16th. Woods waved to the crowd after rolling in a 22-footer, then hammered his driver off the 17th tee.
“I got two of them back coming in,” Woods said. “I could have easily let the round slip away from me, but I got it back. And I’m right back in this tournament.”
Woods seems almost obsessed with his newfound power and swing speed. It didn’t do him any good on 13 and 15, par 5s he can easily reach in two from pretty much anywhere in the fairway.
It was weird to watch him play all four par 5s here without a birdie, with pars at two, eight, 13 and 15 killing his chances of getting things in the red again. There were bad chips and bad tee shots – the tee shot he sprayed to the right at 15 was one of the worst he’s hit this year – but it could have been worse. Defending champion Sergio Garcia put five straight balls in the water at 15 and made a 13, whereas Woods somehow scrambled his way around for par.
That kind of sums up Woods’ entire round. He struck the ball so well at the Valspar Championship and Bay Hill it seemed at times his scores were as high as they could be. The way he played Thursday, it could have been higher. A lot higher.
“A 73 is fine,” Woods said. “By the end of the week this will be a pretty packed leaderboard the way the golf course is set up. They have it right where they want it. It’s really hard to run away from it, but it’s also really easy to lose it out there. By the end of the week there will be a bunch of guys with a chance to win this tournament.”
Woods is T-29 and seven shots back of leader Jordan Spieth, so he’s already got a lot of ground to make up. He’ll get another crack at the National at 1:27 p.m. Friday with Tommy Fleetwood and Marc Leishman, who impressed with a 2-under 70 Friday.
Woods looked exhausted when he walked off the 18th green. He gave a few high-fives and managed a few smiles, but it all looked manufactured. Just like his final score on a tough day that could have been a lot worse. After palling around with Phil Mickelson Tuesday and U.S. Mid-Amateur Champ Matt Parziale on Wednesday, the lovefest was over. Thursday Woods got a sobering reminder that this course doesn’t always love you back.