AUGUSTA, Ga. — A month ago, when he got into contention at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger Woods had something of an earnest request for the people in the media trying to dissect his comeback and find meaning in every bit of minutia: Try to keep this in perspective, Woods said. It wasn’t that long ago I couldn’t get out of bed, and now I’m playing golf again. Yes, I want to win again. I’m also trying to be realistic about where I was, not so long ago.
In the spirit of that request, let’s focus on the big picture. Woods might not have played the kind of golf we wanted, or expected, through the first two rounds of the 2018 Masters Tournament, but when you add up everyone’s scores and take a moment to think about it, there are genuine silver linings. Consider this: He made the cut at a major championship for the first time since April 2015. Six months ago, his doctors didn’t want him doing anything beyond hitting gentle 60-yard pitches. On Friday, he nuked a 335-yard drive on the eighth hole, recoiling his body as if he were cracking a whip. You can be dismayed by his rounds of 73 and 75, but it’s hard to sustain the feeling after seeing a shot like that.
“Six months ago, I didn’t know if I’d be playing golf,” Woods said. “Forget playing at a Tour level, I didn’t know if I’d ever be playing again. It’s incredible for me to have that opportunity again. … Even though I’m a lot behind, if I play a special weekend, shoot two rounds in the mid-60s, you never know.”
What would it take to shoot two rounds in the 60s after playing so poorly? Woods couldn’t resist resorting to one of golf’s corniest jokes, but it was a good example of how much he has mellowed in recent years.
“I would have done it [shoot in the 60s] if I’d quit after playing 16,” Woods said. “I would have had it.”
Woods did not hit the ball well Friday, particularly with his irons. Several were long, a few were short. Very few of them held the lines he wanted. He hit shots into places even he’d never been to in nearly 20 years of playing Augusta National, including launching one into the bushes behind the fifth green, leading to a lengthy search for his ball that could have been a scene from a safari. Woods, though, didn’t make excuses. He chuckled when asked if the shot on No. 5, which was 20 yards deep and left of the green, was the result of a difficult lie.
“No, I just hit a crap shot,” he said.
Woods also dunked one in the water on No. 12 for the second straight round and fired off a few choice words that — if you were listening closely to the broadcast — might have reminded you of the old Tiger Woods in temperament, if not execution.
“F—ing idiot,” he snarled, and thumped his club into the ground.
“I hit my irons awful today,” Woods said. “I didn’t control my distance, my shape, my spins. I left myself in bad spots.”
Tiger Woods shoots 75 in the second round and is tied for 40th heading into the weekend at the Masters.
When you watch Woods play golf these day, it’s hard to resist the temptation to obsessively study his body language, wondering if you just caught a glimpse of a wince or a grimace. You find yourself texting with friends, asking if it looks as if Woods is walking gingerly up the first fairway or if you’re just imagining things. Was he stretching his back on the first tee? Was he swinging easy, early on, trying to protect himself? These comebacks have left physical scars on Woods’ back but also left a few metaphorical ones on our collective psyches. You don’t want to get your hopes up, only to be burned again when he crumples in pain, has to be carted off and is out another six months.
Woods said after his round, however, that he felt fine, that his training leading up to the Masters got him where he wanted to be.
“The amount of cardio and lifting we’ve done, I’ve kept my legs strong, I’ve kept my legs fit,” Woods said. “I’m pretty fresh, actually.”
There were a few bright spots, particularly on the back nine. On the 13th hole, Woods mashed a drive that looked as if it was going to end up in the pine straw underneath the trees on the right side of the hole, but his ball threaded the last two pines and hopped into the grass. From there, Woods hit a towering iron to the middle of the green and two-putted for his first birdie of the day.
Then on 15, after another good drive in the fairway, he took a torturously long look at the table green, trying to calculate how much the wind was going to affect his second shot.
“I’m stalling,” Woods admitted to his caddie, Joe LaCava.
“We’ve been waiting on every shot out here,” LaCava responded, referencing a round that took close to six hours to complete. “We’re not going anywhere for a while. Take your time.”
Eventually Woods slung a beautiful high draw into the right side of the green and watched it dance along the back slope until it finished in the fringe 25 feet behind the pin. He two-putted for his second birdie of the day and was safely inside the cut line.
It wasn’t perfection, but it was progress. While we might have jumped the gun believing he was ready to contend here, Woods is still standing. Gingerly standing, perhaps, but around for the weekend. For now, that’s enough.