by Jeff Skinner
The minute you saw Tiger Woods on Sunday you knew he looked a bit different. Maybe it was planned, maybe it was just coincidence but Woods literally had that “old Tiger” look. Gone was the latest Nike golf shirt with only a hint of red. Tiger’s trademark solid, bright red shirt had morphed into a selection of shirts that only had hints of red in them. There were stripes and shades and whatever Nike could come up with to sell a few more shirts. But Sunday was different. “Tiger’s rocking the old school red shirt” my son said the first time Tiger was on camera and sure enough he was. He looked like the “old Tiger” and for awhile there he played like him too.
For years Tiger has only threatened to win a major from behind as all his major wins have come while he held the lead going into the final round. He started seven strokes back of leader Rory McIlroy at this 75th Masters and he would need to go low to have any chance of contending for his fifth green jacket.
He wasted no time getting started with birdies at two and three and had sent roars through the Augusta hills before the leaders had even teed off. A bogey at the fourth failed to stop his momentum as he went on to score two more birds at the sixth and the seventh. The cheers were now echoing throughout the course and the patrons knew Tiger was on the verge of something special.
He had it to eight under when he stood in the fairway on eight and launched a three wood over 270 yards up the hill onto the green where it stopped about ten feet from the hole. A confident Tiger stroked in the eagle putt and he was back in the hunt, big time.
An opening five under par on the front nine usually bodes well for Tiger as he can reach the par fives on the back and get a few chances at birdie and possibly an eagle. The crowds at Augusta and CBS were thrilled that the old Tiger was back prowling the fairways of Augusta National and the players around the top of the leaderboard knew that Tiger was in this one.
Unfortunately he couldn’t keep it going on the back nine. He missed a short putt for par at the twelfth and then failed to birdie thirteen for the first time all week. He was at ten under and still in the middle of the battle when he stiffed a six iron to fifteen and had a short eagle putt. Woods has made his career sinking these puts. An eagle gets him to twelve under and the roar from the crowd would be worth another stroke as it would send chills through his competitors. Only he missed the putt, a putt the “old Tiger” would have drilled every time. There’s no telling what the rush of momentum from that eagle would have done. Maybe he picks up a stroke or two over the next three holes instead of three pars. Maybe he is back in the race but with that missed eagle he needed help from Adam Scott, Jason Day and eventual winner Charl Schwartzel. But they weren’t about to offer him any.
Afterwards, Wood said he knew he left some out there, “I should have shot an easy 3- or 4-under on the back nine,” he said, “and I only posted even.”
Woods knows Augusta as well as any golfer playing the game today but his rebuilt swing isn’t quite complete yet and his new putter and putting stroke need a bit of work. Still it was exciting to see Woods show flashes of his old self and bring the patrons of Augusta National to their feet again.