AUGUSTA, Ga. — As word spread Friday evening that play was set to resume after a brief weather delay in the second round of the 83rd Masters, the migration began. Like wildebeest traversing a savannah, thousands of dutiful patrons — folded chairs in bags over their shoulders, umbrellas under their arms, plastic beer cups in their hands — speed-walked across the sloping property toward the depths of Amen Corner. Among the masses was a boy with an air cast on his left foot, not that the boot was proving to be much of an impediment. “Tiger,” the kid said with a smile when asked where he was headed. Him and everyone else.
For good reason. Before the 28-minute suspension, Tiger Woods had begun doing Tiger Woods things. First came a birdie at 9, where Woods dropped a 30-footer. Then came another at 11, where Woods struck a beautiful approach to 12 feet on the dangerous par-4. When he poured in the putt, Woods moved to four under for the tournament, just three off the clubhouse lead. Electricity was in the air, and not just the lightning.
At the iconic par-3 12th, the march continued, with Woods firing a dart to six feet. Yet another birdie seemed imminent, but before Woods’ playing partners, Jon Rahm and Haotong Li, could hit their tee shots, a horn echoed through the pines. Sorry, folks, The Tiger Show will return after a short intermission.
Woods picking apart Augusta National back nine is theater we’ve seen before, but this act had a few surprising plot twists. For starters, when play resumed Woods returned to the 12th green and … lipped out the shortie. Didn’t see that coming. Then at the par-5 13th, after clearing Rae’s Creek with his second, Woods left himself an awkward chip from short left of the green. When he failed to get that up and down, he kicked the air in frustration. Par on a birdie hole. On the next tee, more disappointment: a yanked tee shot into the pines. The skies were darkening. A steady rain was falling. The charge, it seemed, was over.
Until it wasn’t. In the pines left of the 14th fairway, Woods sized up his options from a challenging lie and decided he had a shot. “I had a window there,” he said later. Woods punched his approach under a branch and onto the green, 20 feet below the hole. “It came out perfect,” he said. The crowd roared, and then things got weird. As a crush of jacked-up patrons collapsed on Woods, a police officer darted onto the scene, slipped on the wet grass and nearly upended the 14-time major champ. The marshal looked like Pete Rose trying to take out a shortstop with a hard slide. He clipped Woods’ right foot, but Woods danced out of the way, avoiding any significant contact. If the collision rattled Woods, it didn’t show when he arrived on the green, where he coolly holed his birdie putt to climb to five under.
“Accidents happen,” Woods said after his round. “I’ve had galleries run over me, it’s just, you know, when you play in front of a lot of people, things happen.”
The officer’s take? “Well, he made birdie, so I guess it all worked out,” he told GOLF.com. “Man, I am really glad he made birdie.”
Woods was, too, and he wasn’t done yet. Another tugged tee shot at 15 forced him to play the reachable par-5 as a three-shotter, but no matter. Woods knocked his third to 20 feet, then converted his fourth birdie in seven holes to vault to within one of the lead. More roars.
“I feel like I played my own way back into the tournament,” Woods said after signing for a six-birdie 68. Of that, there is no doubt, but the four-time Masters winner still has a mighty hill to climb. Each of the five players a shot ahead of him at seven under — Frankie Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, and Louis Oosthuizen — possesses at least one major title. Lurking with Woods in a quartet of players at six under is Dustin Johnson, who you’d have to imagine will slip on a green jacket sooner or later, and probably sooner. None of these men is likely to be overwhelmed by the test that awaits, weather permitting, over the next 48 hours.
Woods won’t be either, but lest you need reminding, it has been more than a decade since he’s won a major and 14 years since he won this particular invitational. As recently as 18 months ago Woods didn’t know whether he’d ever play big-boy golf again, and just a year ago, at this tournament, he was still speaking of the “process” and needing more reps and the uncertainty of what his body was capable of.
Many of those questions were answered last season with his near-wins at Carnoustie and Bellerive, followed by his stirring victory in the Tour Championship at East Lake. Prevailing in Atlanta meant everything to Woods, and not just because he went home with a hefty check. “It confirmed to me that I could still win again,” Woods said earlier in the week. “You have to do it first in order to truly understand that you can do it.”
It’s only halftime in this Masters and much can and will happen between now and Sunday evening. But Woods is exactly where he needs to be, where he wants to be. “It felt very good to be out there doing what I was doing,” he said Friday evening.
If the roars were any indication, it also felt very good to be watching Woods doing what he was doing.
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