However, those who claimed he would never add to his 14 major championships before his career ended and the record 18 of Jack Nicklaus was safe from a Tiger assault will now be having second thoughts after the impressive way he has performed over the last couple of days coming off the back of a nine week absence from the competitive scene caused by back trouble and serious short game problems. Yesterday’s 69 for two under sends him into the week-end in the top dozen or so and within range of a top five finish, even if the top spot itself is out of the question?
“I left myself with two impossible up and downs out there today, at 6 and 15, but I also made some sweet putts at 14 and 17”, Woods said. “I was at a pretty low moment in my career coming here and so to dig yourself out of the trenches and to change the entire pattern is not easy. My body was trying to remember certain things but once I turned the corner, it’s been good stuff.”
The almost unrivalled speed of the Augusta greens has proved the undoing of many a Masters contender but there is general agreement they have been much slower so far this year.
“I was shocked”, Woods admitted. “I thought they would pick up a little bit of pace. Thomas Bjorn, Mark O’Meara, Tom Watson, we talked before the round about how slow they were on Thursday. We couldn’t believe it. I don’t know if they are going to dry them out for tomorrow. There is no spring in these greens. A lot depends on what the committee does. They can change it and toughen it up if they want to. If they want to leave it as it is and let us make a bunch of birdies, they can.”
Thursday’s one over 73 may have paled against the brilliance of Jordan Spieth’s 64 but some of Tiger’s pitching – most notably at the short 12th where he brilliantly salvaged a bogey 4 having deposited his tee shot in Rae’s Creek by checking his 3rd a couple of feet from the hole – was of the highest quality. If only his long game was of a similar quality, you felt he could have shot in the 60s but too often he left himself out of position off the tee and eventually he had to settle for a one over par 73.
However, Woods looked a far more confident and aggressive golfer once he rolled in a 20 footer for a birdie at the 1st to start his second round. He failed to capitalise on the chance for further progress offered by the long 2nd and was back to even par when dropping a shot at the always tricky short 6th. That lapse presented a major mental challenge – would it derail him and send him plunging back into the “missed cut” brigade - or would he react positively.
The response was outstanding. The 7th is a decent birdie chance – provided you hit the fairway. Woods did just that, crucially he left his approach below the hole at the fiercely back to front sloping green and knocked in a curling putt from nine yards. The mandatory birdie at the long 8th helped him to reach the turn in 34, two under, before the first real indication that Tiger was on his way back came at the treacherous 11th, the first of the three Amen Corner holes.
Not unusually, he pushed his drive into the towering trees and the vast gallery to the right of the fairway and was left with a long iron out of the pine needles to the distant green. He thrilled the crowd by drilling the ball to 12 feet and rolling in the putt for his fourth birdie of the day. A jubilant wave of the putter told its own story and a standing ovation greeted Tiger as he arrived on the 12th.
The remainder of the round, admittedly, was quite low key but the one-time familiar fist punch that greeted a par- saving twelve footer on the 17th confirmed that his mind and sense of purpose were in the right place.
Woods will be around for the week-end to entertain the “patrons” and hopefully enhance his prospects of further rehabilitating his career as the year moves on. But even as he does so, you would have to wonder ... was the young pretender Jordan Spieth really going to emulate or even surpass the12 shot advantage he enjoyed over Tom Kite back in 1997.
All records, as they tell us, are made to be broken.
Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who shot 71 yesterday to make the cut on one over, thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing with Woods and commented.
“It was great (playing with Tiger). He’s a great bloke”, he commented. “He’s a down to earth guy and top fella. In this great game of ours, most guys are gents and great sportsmen. Everybody’s very easy to get on with.
“Tiger played well today. It’s actually sometimes better when there are that many people watching – it’s worse when there are two people watching and they keep moving around. That’s when it’s difficult.
“I’ve never played with Tiger before so to do that at Augusta was nice. It’s great to play with playerse better than you so you can learn from them and try to add things to your game. His demeanour is unbelievable. ”