Masters 2015: Tiger Woods shoots one-over-par and avoids meltdown on his return to Augusta...which is a small mercy

The four-times champion showed resilience on his return to The Masters

There is a rule about not running at the Augusta National – they’re guaranteed to stop you if you try – but there was a moment at the seventh tee today when Tiger Woods had to break it and when he dashed away from there into the pine trees you really wondered whether he would actually be back.

He’d just shanked his tee shot badly – very badly – and he knew it so immediately that he did not even bother with the formality of completing his swing. His club slipped from his hands to the turf, and he slung it at Joe LaCava, his caddie, before bolting. A woman in a security suit assumed position at the path to dissuade anyone curious enough to follow him.

These were the moments out of camera range which revealed the full emotional tumult of Woods’ mindset yesterday and though it was a return which said that his 111th position in the world is no illusion, it must be said that was some accomplishment simply to have held it together. He slugged on, fought it out.

 

The landscape did not look pretty when Woods returned from the sanctuary of what you had to assume was a call of nature to assess the damage of that seventh tee shot, which was on the lower range of his own expectations, lodged in front of two pine trees just off the first fairway. He dispensed with the notion of punching out right onto the fairway, thumped his way with sheer force of clubhead speed to within 20 feet of the hole and almost rescued a par.

And this how it was for two hours and more, at virtually every hole of golf which confronted Woods. A momentary cause of hope, punctured by more vicissitudes. A clean strike from the tee at the tenth but an approach shot which left him down on his calves, groaning at the sight of his ball in the bunker. Sometimes the bad stuff came first.

An overhit approach shot over the left shoulder of the 11th green, confronting him with the short game demons which have been a source of such morbid fascination. But the short game did not desert him then – or at many other moments when the pips squeaked – and he chipped and putted, rock solid for par. Woods took a standing ovation from the bleachers at the 12th, proceeded to send his ball straight into Rae’s Creek and limited the damage. He found the semi-rough at the right of the 13th fairway and recovered. He was 60ft right of the pin with his second shot at the 14th – Tiger! he screamed across the wide acres – and two putted for par.

These are the everyday frustrations of a sportsman reaching for the best in his game at the time when it really counts and in the domain that matters above all other. But what Woods was being asked to come to terms with was his own mundanity. That misplaced shot at the tenth which slowed the progression around the 11th  for Jamie Donaldson and Jimmy Walker, his playing partners, was broadly in the same line of miscalculation that we saw from the Korean amateur Gumm Yang, out with Bubba Watson when the sun was high yesterday. Yang’s round teetered constantly on the brink of disintegration, too, and finally did, his 85 better only than Ben Crenshaw, who has already decided that the competition is beyond him now.

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Tiger Woods grimaces as he shanks his tee shot

But Woods did not dissolve, even though the vocabulary of his frustration at the 15th tee – TV microphones seemed to pick up him calling himself a “dumbass” in frustration – revealed the interior mind. There was moment on the fairway at that 15th hole, after he had just rescued himself, watched his third shot roll back down the bank a few feet beyond the sink and cried “No! No!”, when Woods just squatted there in contemplation.

There was an almighty roar in that moment from a direction that you had believe was where Jordan Speith was racking up the sixth birdie in seven rounds to sweep to the top of the Masters, three holes behind. The leaderboard at the 15th green was within view and in that moment, as a light breeze crossed the fairway, Woods must have felt a very long way from the sanctity that east Georgia once held.

He is skating on extremely thin ice today, tying for 41st,  -bang on the cut mark - and in need of something better if he is to prevail into the weekend. To miss the cut would represent a particularly brutal form of humiliation and bring upon him a deluge of criticism about his decision to enter the fray so short of match practice. It would be the first time in 20 Masters that he misses the cut, on the tenth anniversary of his first win.

He was trying to take strength from the recovery of his short game last night. “It's my strength again.  That's why I've busted my butt.  That's why I took time off.  That's why I hit thousands and thousands of shots to make sure that it's back to being my strength,” he said. But his conclusion that “I felt good. I felt like I hit the ball well enough to shoot 3‑under par,” was not borne out by what the cameras did and sounded like a confection. More significant than empty words is the fact Woods is there at all. It was less than a humiliation, the chance to fight another day, and that displays a mental strength at least.

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