The frenzy continues. The galleries, the Augusta bush telegraph, the players, no one is immune from the gravitational pull of Tiger Woods.
And on day two of his return at the Masters he didn’t demur. With a smile as wide as the Savannah river, he declared his readiness to better the field. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Woods has come for the “W”.
“I want to win. I feel like my game is finally ready to go and do that again,” he said. “I worked my ass off. People would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again. It was sunup to sundown, whenever I had free time, if the kids were asleep, I’d be doing it, and then when they were in school, I’d be doing it. I finally got to the point where I feel I can do it now.”
You have to admire the man’s chutzpah. Few in the history of the game have set out in such certitude. How long Woods can maintain the belief is another matter. Psychologists would be out of business if there were not people labouring under a view of the world that ran counter to reality.
Since his arrival here late on Monday afternoon Augusta National has been in thrall to the idea that the magic is back, that something special is unfolding. The crowding around the first tee this morning demonstrated perfectly the sense of anticipation and excitement Woods generates.
Masters 2016 - Augusta National hole-by-hole guide
Masters 2016 - Augusta National hole-by-hole guide
1/18 1st (Tea Olive), 445 yards, par four
deep bunker on the right of the fairway and trees both sides make for a daunting start, while long and left of the undulating green both spell big trouble. Unsurprisingly played the hardest hole on the course in 2012 and ranked second in 2013.
2015 average: 4.23 (rank 4)
2/18 2nd (Pink Dogwood), 575 yards, par five
Driving into the trees on the left cost Padraig Harrington a nine in 2009, but Louis Oosthuizen memorably holed his second shot for an albatross in the final round in 2012 before losing in a play-off to Bubba Watson. An important early birdie chance.
2015 average: 4.61 (rank 16)
3/18 3rd (Flowering Peach), 350 yards, par four
Shortest par four on the course but a pear-shaped green with steep slope in front allows for some wicked pin positions. Charl Schwartzel pitched in for eagle in the final round en route to title in 2011.
2015 average: 3.95 (rank 14)
4/18 4th (Flowering Crab Apple), 240 yards, par three
The back tee - not always used - turns it into a beast with the green sloping from back to front. Phil Mickelson took six here in the final round in 2012 and finished two shots outside the play-off. Jeff Sluman's ace in 1992 remains the only hole-in-one here in Masters history.
2015 average: 3.29 (rank 2)
5/18 5th (Magnolia), 455 yards, par four
Jack Nicklaus twice holed his second shot in 1995 and Colin Montgomerie did it in 2000, but it is another devilishly difficult green. To clear the fairway bunkers requires a 315-yard carry.
2015 average: 4.14 (rank 8)
6/18 6th (Juniper), 180 yards, par three
From a high tee to a green with a huge slope in it. Five holes-in-one - including Jamie Donaldson in 2013 - but Jose Maria Olazabal took seven in 1991 and lost by one to Ian Woosnam, while Arnold Palmer has also run up a seven.
2015 average: 3.08 (rank T10)
7/18 7th (Pampas), 450 yards, par four
What used to be a real birdie chance has been lengthened by 35-40 yards, while trees were also added and the putting surface reshaped. More bunkers - five - around the green than any other hole.
2015 average: 4.24 (rank 3)
8/18 8th (Yellow Jasmine), 570 yards, par five
The bunker on the right, about 300 yards out, pushes players left and from there it is harder to find the green in two up the steep hill. Still a good birdie chance and Bruce Devlin made an albatross two in 1967.
2015 average: 4.65 (rank 15)
9/18 9th (Carolina Cherry), 460 yards, par four
The tee was pushed back 30 yards in 2002. The raised green, with two bunkers on the left, tilts sharply from the back and anything rolling off the front can continue down for 50-60 yards.
2015 average: 4.08 (rank T10)
10/18 10th (Camellia), 495 yards, par four
A huge drop from tee to green on this dogleg left and over all the years of the Masters the most difficult hole. It was here that Rory McIlroy began to fall apart in 2011 with a seven, while Watson clinched the title in 2012 by making par in the play-off from the trees.
2015 average: 4.16 (rank 6)
11/18 11th (White Dogwood), 505 yards, par four
The start of Amen Corner. Toughest hole in 2011, 2014 and 2015, with the water front and left scaring many. Best remembered for Larry Mize's chip-in in 1987 and Nick Faldo's back-to-back play-off wins.
2015 average: 4.32 (rank 1)
12/18 12th (Golden Bell), 155 yards, par three
Probably the most famous par three in golf. Narrow target, water in front, trouble at the back, it has seen everything from a one to Tom Weiskopf's 13 in 1980. McIlroy four-putted it in 2011.
2015 average: 3.12 (rank 9)
13/18 13th (Azalea), 510 yards, par five
The end of Amen Corner. Massive dogleg left with scores ranging from Jeff Maggert's albatross two in 1994 to Tommy Nakajima's 13 in 1978. Bubba Watson's enormous drive here in 2014 left him with just a sand wedge into the green to set up a birdie.
2015 average: 4.54 (rank 18)
14/18 14th (Chinese Fir), 440 yards, par four
The only hole on the course without a bunker, but three putts are common on the wickedly difficult green. Course record holder Nick Price took eight here in 1993, while Phil Mickelson holed his approach en route to 2010 victory.
2015 average: 4.08 (rank 12)
15/18 15th (Firethorn), 530 yards, par five
Often a tough decision whether to go for the green in two across the pond on the hole where Gene Sarazen sank his 235-yard four-wood shot for an albatross in 1935. There have also been three 11s here.
2015 average: 4.60 (rank 17)
16/18 16th (Redbud), 170 yards, par three
Tiger Woods' memorable chip-in in 2005 came the same year as 73-year-old Billy Casper's 14, while Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter are among 15 players to record holes-in-one.
2015 average: 3.01 (rank 13)
17/18 17th (Nandina), 440 yards, par four
The famous Eisenhower Tree has been removed after suffering storm damage, making for an easier tee shot on the hole Justin Rose double-bogeyed when one off the lead in 2007. Jack Nicklaus birdied here to take the lead as he won his 18th major in 1986.
2015 average: 4.15 (rank 7)
18/18 18th (Holly), 465 yards, par four
The drive through an avenue of trees was made much harder when the tee was moved back 60 yards in 2002. The fairway bunker from which Sandy Lyle got up and down to win in 1988 is now 300 yards away.
2015 average: 4.21 (rank 5)
That he has played only 47 competitive holes since missing the cut at the PGA Championship last August does not penetrate the bubble. There is an uncritical adherence to the legend of Woods which expects deeds of derring-do as standard, despite what has gone before.
Many of the patrons, as the punters in this precinct are known, might have absorbed the purple prose in the venerable Augusta Chronicle, much of which was full of Woods romance, detailing in vivid colour the remarkable sequence of shots he executed late on Monday.
The pull hook with which he opened proceedings and which ended up in the middle of the adjacent ninth fairway was lost in the reverence. The fact that it might be the most telling barometer of the state of his game was not considered. His recovery to 12 feet and the subsequent birdie carried far more weight.
Doubtless he has improved since January and early February when he followed that career high 82 and missed cut in Phoenix with a walk-in after just 12 holes at Torrey Pines six days later. But he has not been tested, and, as the former world No 1 David Duval reminded us, it is a long walk from the practice area to the first tee. The meaning of that statement is not measured in metres.
Thursday marks the 20th appearance by Woods at this golfing monument. It is 10 years since the last of his four victories here and that emblematic chip on the 16th green on the final day, arguably the most dramatic shot hit at Augusta National. The numbers tell us he is not half the golfer that lit up our screens then, high-fiving across the canvas. Yet he would have it that, once he crosses the ropes, nothing has changed.
Asked what victory here might mean after all his recent travails, Woods didn’t so much as blink: “It would be my 15th major.” If little has altered in his approach there is a visible softening around the edges. Woods was accompanied on the range by his children and his partner, Lindsey Vonn.
Today the kids will share caddying duties in the par-three tournament. That he might dilute his effort in the workplace by inviting domestic distraction is anathema to the memory we have of Woods in the peak years. Perhaps he is learning to smell the roses as he moves towards his 40th birthday. Or maybe Augusta has simply melted his heart.
“This tournament is so special to me for so many reasons. There’s no other tournament like it. You go out there and it’s just a player and a caddie and that’s it. Inside the ropes, it’s really just us. There’s something special about it.
“You come here to a golf course we play every year, where other majors don’t. There’s so much history involved. I just find it fascinating that they keep changing this place, it seems like, every year and it looks exactly the same, like it’s never been touched.”
The eighth tee was the obvious departure point for those who had not arrived early enough to see Woods tee off at the first. From the clubhouse at the top of the hill the landscape tumbles down towards Amen Corner. The opening holes feed around the perimeter of the course before feeding back via the sixth and seventh to the heart of the complex.
The swelling numbers around the adjacent seventh green told those packed around the tee box at eight that Woods was on his way. He had not been hitting the ball as cleanly as he had the night before. His tee shot ballooned into the trees on the right. “Don’t kill anybody,” joked Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava as he watched the ball sail over his head from an advanced position down the fairway.
Humour seemed the appropriate response, and perhaps more accurately summarised where Woods fits into the order of things this week. Expectations of contending simply do not match the evidence of the past year. He was a basket case just two months ago. He is making rapid strides but even he won’t know how his game holds up until he has a card in his hand.
Woods missed the seventh green with his approach, requiring a second crack to reach the dance floor. None of this was known to those waiting at the eighth, who gave him a rousing welcome as he made his way up the hill to the tee box. There was a cheer, too, when he put a second ball down after his first had found the fairway bunker.
His second was perfect, straight down the middle, but there aren’t any Mulligans on Thursday afternoon. Then it’s for real.Reuse content