Yes, Tiger Woods had a rousing front nine at Augusta yesterday to suddenly have his name being tossed about as a legitimate contender to win The Masters.
No, Tiger Woods did not win the golf tournament.
And it’s from that we can safely say that Tiger Woods is not “back”. Is he improved? Absolutely. Is he playing at a level where he can contend for victories? Clearly.
But consider that this was Augusta, where, even with his game in shambles, Tiger Woods is going to play well. It’s a course that he’s as comfortable on as the tour visits, and it’s one he could probably play blind folded. Okay, he could probably only play tee to green blind folded, albeit, he couldn’t have putted much worse this tournament if he was blind-folded, so who knows?
If you really want to think about it, Woods pretty much played one really good round of golf this weekend at Augusta, well, okay, one really great round. From the 8th tee box to the 18th green on Friday Woods was masterful.
On Sunday for the first nine holes, Woods was arguably better. Over those particular 20 holes of golf Tiger Woods was -12. Yes, -12. He shot 69, over 20 holes. He was as good as he’s ever been for those two separate nine hole marches (give or take a couple extra holes with his Friday march), and clearly looked like the worlds most dominant player.
Unfortunately for Tiger Woods, it’s a 72 hole tournament, not 20. He played the other 52 holes of his week at +2.
The 13th and 15th holes, par fives that Wood has historically carved up, weren’t as friendly this time around, as Woods played them at -5. While still a solid score, considering he parred 13 on Sunday at a time when a birdie was needed and merely birdied 15 after missing a very makable short eagle putt, the fact the number wasn’t lower greatly played into his not winning the tournament.
The reason the number wasn’t lower was because Woods couldn’t make putts consistently.
What always separated Woods from other golfers wasn’t his uncanny shot making, or his length of the tees, it was his ability to seemingly never miss an important putt. The break, the undulation of the green, the distance, the weather, the leader board, all seemed inconsequential, Woods was simply going to make any critical putt he was faced with. It was a foregone conclusion. It’s why Rocco Mediate knew at Torrey Pines a couple years ago that there would be a playoff with a gimpy Woods at the U.S. Open, Woods just didn’t miss putts like that.
He does now. He did make an outstanding par save on 11 on Friday, making a critical putt to do so, and perhaps save his tournament, but there weren’t many other memorable moments on the green for Woods.
Correction, there weren’t many other enjoyable memorable moments for Woods on the Augusta greens.
Bogeys thanks to wayward tee shots that were searching for South Carolina could be expected. Three putt bogeys? You can’t have those and win major tournaments. Tiger Woods of old never had those three putt bogeys, and certainly not when the chips were down.
On the 12th green, with momentum on his side, the gallery behind him, and a 15th major suddenly a definite possibility, Woods three putted the par three, and his momentum was gone. It wasn’t just a three putt, it was the fact that Woods missed an extremely short, and should be sure thing, comebacker for par that was cause for concern.
When is the last time you could recall Tiger Woods missing putts of that nature with something riding on them? He’s made his reputation and his career from having ice water in his veins and making putts that leave the knees shaking for others seem as easy as a tap in on a miniature golf course somewhere.
The problems didn’t end there. Woods wasted a beautiful tee shot on the par 5 13th, again with a chance to grab some of the momentum back. He missed the green with his approach, and his chip back towards the hole left him a lengthy birdie putt.
And again, this is where the old Woods would have shown up and steadily drained the long birdie putt because that’s what he does. The current Tiger Woods doesn’t, and didn’t.
On to the 15th, despite his putter’s problem, Woods was still in prime contention to win The Masters, and to in the least, put a lot of pressure on everyone else bunched together at the top of the leader board.
Woods approach was a thing of beauty, an eagle was a sure thing. Woods was going to go to -11, claim sole possession of the lead, and the ground at Augusta National was going to shake with the roar of approval.
It was the type of moment Tiger Woods doesn’t fail to seize. Except this isn’t that Tiger Woods. This current Tiger Woods doesn’t seize these moments, and he didn’t here. It was his second short miss in four holes. One resulted in a momentum killing bogey, the other, a birdie that seemed to actually drain more of his momentum than the bogey did.
Yes, Woods walked off the 15th with a birdie, and at -10, and still atop the leader board. But he also walked off the 15th green knowing he probably had just ended any real chance he had at victory. He walked off the 15th knowing that when faced with a crucial putt, he isn’t expected to make it. His opponents don’t expect him to make it, he probably no longer expects to make it.
A Woods eagle on 15 changes the way the back nine plays out. We saw what the mere presence of a charging Tiger Woods did to Rory McElroy. The roars echoing through the Georgia pines while Woods blistered the front nine went straight to the head of the 54 hole leader. How would Charl Schwartzel handle a lurking Tiger? I somehow doubt he finishes with 4 straight birdies, especially if the need for those birdies is greater thanks to Tiger Woods being in the clubhouse with a lower number.
But alas, that’s now how the story played out, and it’s not that big of a surprise. There was a time when if Woods hit a critical shot to within 12 or so feet on a Sunday at a major, you just knew the putt was going in, in fact, you were already writing a birdie down on the scorecard and were concerned with his tee shot on the following hole.
Such a mindset no longer exists for golf fans, or fellow golfers, when it comes to Woods. When he hit the shot on 15, even as short as the eagle putt was, there was a lingering sense of doubt as to whether or not he’d be able to finish off the eagle. The doubt was well placed. Doubt that once upon a time wouldn’t dare creep into anyone’s mind.
As long as that doubt exists, as long as the fans doubt it, and the opponents, and more importantly Tiger has it, Tiger Woods is not back. Tiger Woods still may never be back.