Will he … or won’t he? With just days left until the 2016 Masters, His Tigerness still hasn’t RSVP’ed. So now we wait to see if he's healthy enough to play in the event he has positively owned (four W’s, 14 top 10s). Is he back? Is his back back? Can he play 18 wince-free holes?
Relax. Take a deep breath, because there are no answers. Not yet, anyway. Instead, let us pause to celebrate Tiger’s Masters career: the soaring highs, the surprising lows and a few wacky happenings that fall somewhere in between.
Here, ranked in descending order, are Tiger’s 13 most indelible Masters moments.
13. That time he rolled his first-ever Masters putt off the green (1995)
On the first green of Tiger’s first Masters, the spindly 19-year-old faced a blazing 40-footer for birdie. Down the slope it rolled, past the hole and straight off the putting surface, where it finally, mercifully, came to rest 30 feet from the cup. This ain’t the SoCal Am, kid, Augusta seemed to be saying. The week was full of lessons. One night, as Tiger toddled downstairs from the Crow’s Nest in search of the front desk, he took a wrong turn into the Champions Locker Room. “I didn't know if I was allowed in there,” Woods said, recalling the memory in 2002. “But I was in there, looking at all of those lockers, and here I am, lo and behold, lockered up with Jackie Burke.” In baggy pleated pants and a Stanford cap, he went on to finish low amateur, in a tie for 41st.
12. That time he busted up his knee under the Eisenhower Tree (2011)
Keeping tabs on Tiger’s myriad injuries isn’t easy, but the sprained knee he suffered during the third round of the 2011 Masters resonates because of where it happened: beneath the famed Eisenhower Tree. Woods had to squat to play the shot, resulting in a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, plus a mild strain of his left Achilles. On Sunday, he went out in 31 to grab a piece of the lead. But an inward 34 left him four back of Charl Schwartzel. As Woods made his way up the 18th hole, he had a noticeable limp. The Eisenhower Tree has since been removed; Woods’s injuries linger.
11. That time Nike aired that creepy Earl Woods commercial (2010)
Nike ratcheted up the weirdness of the Post-Hydrant Era with a 30-second Masters-week spot that evoked a scene from The Ring. The imagery: a grainy black-and-white close-up of Tiger. The narration: Tiger’s late father Earl telling his son, “I wanna find out what your thinking was. I wanna find out what your feelings are, and did you learn anything.” Eerie as it was bizarre.
10. That time he didn’t play (2014)
Tiger had missed other majors in his professional career — four since 2008 alone — but never the Masters. That changed in 2014 when back surgery forced Woods to end his Masters streak at 19 consecutive starts. The show went on but without the electricity that can only be described as Tiger buzz. Even the players acknowledged the more subdued vibe. “It's a weird feeling not having Tiger here, isn't it?” said Phil Mickelson. It was costly too, for everyone from ticket brokers to event planners to CBS. Even a Bubbalicious Sunday couldn’t prevent the worst Masters weekend ratings since 1957.
9. That time he and Stevie botched a high five (2005)
Tiger and Steve Williams’s clumsy wrist-bash after Tiger’s holed chip on 16 in 2005 (see No. 2) remains the gold standard for revelry gone awry.
8. That time he won consecutive green jackets (2002)
Only two players had won consecutive Masters before 2002: Jack Nicklaus (1965 and ’66) and Nick Faldo (1989 and ’90). To become the third, Tiger would have to bat back the rest of the Big 5. On Saturday night he shared the lead with Retief Goosen. Veej was two back. Phil, Sergio and Ernie four behind. Alas none stepped up to tango with Tiger. Woods snatched the lead from Goosen and refused to let any other player threaten him on his way to a cool 71 and a three-stroke win on a beefed-up Augusta National layout. It was vintage Tiger in the vintage Tiger era. “He was just cruising,” Goosen said.
7. That time he faced the press in the wake of his sex scandal (2010)
In 2010, the Masters didn’t begin on the back nine on Sunday. It began with Tiger’s Tuesday press conference, when he faced the media for the first time since his life imploded four-plus months earlier. (CBS president Sean McManus had predicted the presser would be “the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years.”) Woods endured the 34-minute inquisition, answering some questions, sidestepping others. “I lied to a lot of people, deceived a lot of people, kept others in the dark, rationalized, and even lied to myself,” he said. “The full magnitude of it, it's pretty brutal.” As was Billy Payne’s Tiger takedown. The club chairman used the occasion of his annual powwow with the press to chide Woods, saying, “It is not simply the degree of his conduct that was so egregious but the fact that he disappointed all of us.” What fans Tiger still had, however, he would not disappoint. After 54 holes, he was just four back of leader Lee Westwood. Which leads us to…
6. That time he tied for 4th in the wake of his sex scandal (2010)
No, he didn’t win, but finishing top 5 at the 2010 Masters—in the eye of the largest media storm in golf history and in his first Tour start in more than five months—ranks among Woods’s most underrated feats.
5. That time he and Phil set Augusta ablaze (2009)
The golf world had waited too long for Tiger and Phil to lock horns in the same pairing on the Sunday of a major. That it happened on a course where birdies abound, roars reverberate and spines tingle was a dream scenario. Lefty went out in a record-tying 6-under 30; Tiger finished the day with an eagle and four birds. “There has perhaps never been a louder crowd for an early Sunday twosome, nearly 7,000 yards’ worth of standing ovations, crazy shouts with every shot,” Bill Plaschke wrote in the L.A. Times. Said Mickelson’s bagman Jim Mackay, “The most fun I've ever had on a golf course caddying.” Ultimately, neither player could muster enough magic to make up the seven-shot deficit with which they began their rounds, but with all due respect to Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry, Tiger and Phil delivered more than enough theatrics to steal the show.
4. That time he took an illegal drop and signed an incorrect scorecard but wasn’t DQ’ed (2013)
Before the 2013 Masters, you may have been familiar with Rule 26-1-a, which requires that golfers take a penalty drop “as nearly as possible” to the ball's previous position. But you probably didn't know about Rule 33-7, which essentially allows a tournament committee to undo its wrongs. Both rules played a starring role in the ’13 Masters after Woods unwittingly took an illegal drop on the 15th hole on Friday. Masters officials also had missed the gaffe, meaning Woods wasn’t approached about his sloppy drop until after he had signed for a 71. Feeling responsible for not having alerted Woods sooner, the committee evoked Rule 33-7 and deemed that Woods should not be DQ’ed. Tiger agreed, even though many believed he should have eschewed the green coats’ decision and removed himself from the proceedings. In the days, weeks and months after The Drop fascinating details emerged of the backroom politicking that led to Tiger’s free pass. Who knew the Rules could be so riveting?
3. That time he delivered the Tiger Slam (2001)
There wasn’t a term for it, so the golf world collectively conjured one: Tiger Slam \ tie-ger slam \ n : winning all four majors consecutively, though not in the same calendar year. That was the mission for Woods, then 26, at the onset of the 2001 Masters, having picked off the 2000 Opens (U.S. and British) and PGA Championship. Early in the week Woods admitted that achieving the feat in one year, as Bobby Jones did in 1930, “is the harder way.” But he added, “If you can put all four trophies on your coffee table, I think you can make a pretty good case for that, too.” In a taught Sunday finish, Woods posted his second consecutive 68 to ward off challenges from his then two greatest rivals, Phil Mickelson and David Duval. “It all felt preordained, inevitable, uneventful even,” Richard Hoffer wrote in Sports Illustrated. “There wasn't a doubt in the world how this would play out. When it was over, not even the crowd, communicating the tournament's ups and downs through Augusta's acoustic hollows, could muster a truly surprised roar.”
2. That time he whipped Verne Lundquist into a tizzy (2005)
You’ve seen the replay a hundred times: the slippery curling chip shot at the par-3 16th that trundled down to the hole before surrendering to gravity. (Verne: “In … your … life … have you seen anything like that?”) So epic was the shot that it’s easy to forget Tiger’s Saturday heroics: a run of seven consecutive birdies (from holes 7 to 13) that tied a tournament record and vaulted him back into contention. Woods didn’t exactly slam the door on Sunday—he bogeyed two of the last three holes in regulation—but his 71 was good enough for a spot in a playoff where he dispatched DiMarco with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole.
1. That time he changed everything (1997)
Poor Tom Kite. In some years his 282 would have won him the green jacket, but in ’97 that tally was 12 strokes too many. Kite used the word “leapfrogged” to describe what Tiger had done to the field. Decimated was more accurate. Woods’s 18-under 270 was a Masters record. So was his margin of victory. So was his age: at 21 years, 104 days, he became the youngest Masters champion. Of course Woods’s performance also stood out for the color of his skin. Augusta National didn’t admit a black member until 1990 and now here, before the eyes of the world, was a mixed-race Masters champion. Woofed Earl Woods, "Green and black go well together, don't they?”