Masters 2015: Tiger Woods - 'I've worked my ass off... my game is now ready to win'

The former world No 1 is back and full of confidence that he can be victorious among the dogwoods. But signs from his practice round suggest it's too much too soon

Click to follow
The Independent Online

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.

 

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.

pg-62-tiger-2-getty.jpg
Tiger Woods with Mark O’Meara during Tuesday's practice round (Getty)

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.

Comments