TIGER WOODS WILL TEE OFF SATURDAY AT 1 p.m. ET
Most assumed he would never play again.
Those who did, said he wouldn't be the same. As long as they saw Tiger Woods playing, that would be good enough. But this isn't any normal being -- this is a man that time after time, has battled back to prove his doubters wrong.
And he's done it again -- through two rounds in the 2022 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Not only was he out there, not only did he look like the Woods of old, not only did he make the cut, but he enters the weekend T-19, inside the Top-20 with an outside shot to compete for his sixth green jacket.
For the past two days, I've watched every shot Woods has hit and every step he's taken. And my biggest takeaway is that Woods is perhaps the most resilient athlete there's ever been.
Look no further than his Friday at Augusta National. With heavy winds in the forecast, the course was expected to be fast and dry. Accurate. Woods carried his driver well and successfully hit the fairway off the tee box on 10-of-14 attempts, including a 339-yard bomb on No. 9.
But his start was that out of a horror movie. Woods recorded a bogey on four of his first five holes. All the work to finish Thursday's round at -1, dashed. At that point, it would be a battle to make the cut. And that's when the resilience of Woods kicked in.
Woods went par, par, birdie, par to end his front nine, battling back to get to +2 for the tournament and +3 for the day. Now with some momentum and confidence restored, Woods would have a chance to claw his way back up the leaderboard on the back nine. Woods kept it going on No. 10, the 495-yard Par 5, throwing an old fashioned dart to get the patrons going.
Woods tapped that in for birdie and was +1 for the tournament, +2 for the day. And then trouble struck once again.
Woods followed up a five-hole, bogey free stretch with back-to-back on No. 11 and 12. And as quick as Woods was back in it, he was back out of it -- one shot above the cutline. But once again, a resilient Woods refused to roll over and die.
He took on the 510-yard, Par 5 at No. 13 and ended his cruise around Amen Corner with a birdie. Woods followed that up with another on the 440-yard Par 4 at No. 14, hitting an excellent approach shot to within nine-feet of the cup.
Woods ended his round with four consecutive pars to walk into the clubhouse shooting a 74, +2. In all reality, the +2 doesn't tell the story. You could argue that his +2 Friday was better than his -1 Thursday. Aided by the wind, Woods was much more consistent with his driver.
Excluding the approach out of the bunker on No. 12, where Woods failed to hit the green, his chips put him in great position to have manageable birdie and par putts. And on a day like Friday, where most faltered and some outright crumbled, pars were more like birdies. Birdies were more like eagles.
Heading into the weekend inside the Top-20 is major accomplishment, no matter how you look at it. This is a 46-year-old playing in the PGA Tour's premier event just 14 months after a near-fatal car accident. His right leg is being held together by rods, pins and screws, in addition to his five prior knee surgeries. Did I mention the five back surgeries as well?
Add in the fact that Woods hadn't competed in a PGA Tour event in 504 days and you see why it's an accomplishment for him to be in the hunt. But to win, which Woods always expects to do when he steps on the course, will require him to pull off his biggest miracle yet. No fault of his own, nor 89 of the world's best that competed in the first two rounds.
For that, he has Scottie Scheffler to blame, the World's No.1 ranked player. The 25-year-old was on a tear coming into the Masters, having won three tournaments since February. Scheffler followed up a 69, -3 showing Thursday with an ever better outing Friday, shooting a 67, -5 to catapult into first place at -8 overall.
Scheffler enters the weekend with a five-stroke lead on the field, meaning that not only Woods, but the rest of the field has work to do. A path to the top is simple: Woods needs birdies -- lots of them. Scheffler needs bogeys -- lots of them.
Based on the way the latter has been playing and the composure he showed Friday, it's unlikely we see a collapse. And that's okay for the millions who are hoping to see Woods pull it off once again. Not only is he here, but he's shown he's still got it. That at his best, he's pretty darn good.
And the reality is, Woods is just four shots behind the second-place foursome of Charl Schwartzel, Sungjae Im, Shane Lowry and Hideki Matsuyama. With his adrenaline going and the rush of a weekend at the Masters coursing through his veins, it should shock nobody to see Woods flirt with the Top-5 of the leaderboard.
And if that is what's in store for fans tuning in over the weekend, then I'd say we have a must watch tournament on our hands, filled with fist bumps and thunderous ovations. And that in itself, is good for golf, just as Woods most certainly is.
“I made the cut. I’ve got a chance going into the weekend," Woods said after his round. "It’s going to be cool tomorrow. Quicker, drier, faster. It will be a great test.”
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