Tiger Woods is mastering the Augusta National golf course through feeling and faith
Ask Bryson DeChambeau, the mad scientist who is trying to make a career out of experimentation. The world No. 19 went away to nurse an injury after a missed cut in the Farmers Insurance Open at the end of January. Since his return to the course in March, DeChambeau has failed to reach the knockout stages of the WGC Matchplay event and missed the cut at the Texas Open. On Friday, the man from Dallas, laboured to an 80. At 12-over (76-80) through 36 holes, DeChambeau was a good eight strokes from making the cut (4-over) at The Masters.
That is normal. It takes time, for even the most elite athletes, to regain form after some time away from the sport. It was just a month in the case of the Texan. Woods has been away for a good seventeen months. Not just away. He spent three months on a hospital bed after mangling his tibia and ankle in a horrific accident in February last year. But it appears that the magic hasn’t left the bag for Tiger Woods. He started the week with a 71, that was hailed around the world, primarily for how implausible such an outcome seemed on paper.
In the case of Woods though, the fairy tale neither runs out of ink nor paper. Woods produced another miraculous recovery on Friday. After conceding four bogeys in the first five holes, a missed cut seemed like the most normal and obvious outcome. But nothing about Woods is ever meant to be normal. Ever. “I told Joey that, hey, we got a lot of holes to play. It’s going to be tough all day, so let’s get it back to even-par for the day somehow,” said Woods. “If I can just stay at even-par for the day, I thought that would have been a pretty good comeback.”
But how do you do that, when you are rusty, the conditions are tough and you are coming back from a year and a half away from the game? “It’s more the feels for distances and shot shapes. I don’t have to think so much about what do I need to do.
I can just get up there and feel it and play using my hands again instead of just kind of thinking, okay, I need to do this, this, this to hit this shot, right?” explained Woods. If nothing seems obvious to you from that comment, don’t break a chair. Apparently, even the mysterious feels obvious to the genius residing inside the ravaged body of Woods. “Normally I just see it, feel it, go hit my number. I haven’t played a lot of tournaments of late, so it’s been a little bit rusty, but I’m starting to come around. I felt good about how I fought back today and got myself (back on the board). I could have easily kicked myself out of the tournament today, but I kept myself in it.” Despite all the feeling for his shots, Woods still had to find a way to get his putter into a good space. “I was able to practice and get my touch, practice on my short game, hit a lot of putts, which was great. Start seeing break again. I’ve been in Florida. I haven’t played the TOUR in forever, so we don’t see break,” elaborated Woods about the challenges with putting after a long break.
“Start seeing 10 feet of break, you’ve got to get used to it to the eye, and I haven’t played a lot of competitive golf. So it’s taken a little bit to get used to it, but I finally got my eye back.” Jack Nicklaus, 46 then, as Woods is now, was six strokes back at the halfway stage in 1986. He shot 69-65 over a mythical weekend at Augusta to collect his sixth Green Jacket. Cut to the present – world No.1 Scottie Scheffler ran into the distance with a brilliant 67, for a midway lead of five strokes at eight-under. Woods was one-over. Can he find a way back from nine shots? The Florida resident is also chasing a sixth Jacket and thinks it is mighty possible. “Tomorrow (Saturday) will be a big day.
It’s going to be cool. It’s going to be tough. The wind is supposed to blow again and tough scoring conditions. I need to go out there and handle my business and get into the red and get myself a chance going into that back nine on Sunday,” suggested an optimistic Woods. “If you’re within five or six on that back nine going into Sunday, you’ve got a chance. So I just need to get there.” Forgive him for making it sound that simple. After all he is Tiger Woods. Consider that a warning, despite the seemingly implausible suggestion. Tiger is on the prowl. And to the hunter, the field is just prey..
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