Tiger Woods has been through a lot in the past few months, and most of it has been deserved.
He had been living a lie, and because of his infidelity, golf’s best golfer and one of the most well-known sports athlete in history lost sponsors, credibility, and the trust of his wife, Elin.
But all that is behind him. He is back playing a game that needs him and that he needs.
And did he ever return with a bang.
Heading into the Masters, a major that he has won four times, I thought it would be a triumph to make the cut, considering all that has surrounded him and the fact that he has been away from the game for some time.
But with the Augusta crowd supporting him more than ever, by his own admission, Tiger took the course by storm early, using his knowledge of Augusta and taking advantage of relatively easy-to-reach pin placements to shoot a blistering front-nine score.
He parred four of the first five holes and birdied the par-four third, getting ovations wherever he went, and then with the raucous crowds and ESPN cameras following his every move, he eagled the par-five eighth hole and birdied the ninth. This gave him an opening-nine 33, his best score in any front nine he has played in the event.
Three things in particular highlighted that first nine. First, his ovation as he walked to the opening tee. This, which he acknowledged warmly, had to increase his confidence level and put him at ease. Augusta, with their rules, would have kicked out anyone who booed or heckled him, but to receive such a reception certainly seemed to relieve some tension and make him feel like he did belong on the golf course once again.
Second, his second shot on eight after a monstrous drive. He was smack dab in the middle of the fairway, pulled out his three-wood, and crushed it onto the green with a little help from the green-side mounds, which the ball bounded off of and trickled into the downslope putting surface to within 15 feet.
He made the putt for eagle, setting up his best shot of the day, the third highlight of his front nine, and a shot that was vintage Tiger. He was in the rough on the left side of the fairway on the dogleg left par-four and would need to hook it about 40 yards to even have a shot at reaching the green.
After clubbing it with a mid-iron, he sprinted sideways into the middle of the fairway to see where it ended up. All it did was hook the amount necessary, run slightly through the green, and zoom backwards towards the hole with use of the downslope.
Upon bogeying the 10th and parring the 11th and 12th, he creamed his drive on 13, which set up a pristine second shot. He poked his second onto the green, and though he missed his initial putt on this par-five, he tapped in his second for his third birdie of the round.
Up to this point, his putter had been hurting him a bit; he had multiple opportunities to increase his score. But with brilliant shot-making and his usual length, he was able to miss medium-distance putts and still make pars or at worst bogeys.
He bogeyed the 14th hole after a disappointing second shot that ran through the green and into the gallery but bounced back to eagle the par-five 15th, giving him two, the most he has accumulated in any Masters round.
He parred the next two holes but bogeyed the 18th as an eight-footer lipped out, presumably giving him a sour taste heading to the clubhouse. But despite the disappointing finish, his performance had to be a dream come true in his eyes. He shot a 68 and trails 50-year old Fred Couples by two shots.
Tiger was stunned by the crowd’s support, and I’m sure surprised by his play just as I was. Of course, despite his time off from the game, I should have known this would happen. After all, it’s Tiger.