The Masters: Woods to tee off in next-to-last groupAnother day at Augusta National brought Tiger Woods closer to the very reason he came to the Masters. He turned his head from side to side so he could make eye contact with fans as he walked off the green. He looked more at ease as he tried to make good on his pledge to be a better person.
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Another day at Augusta National brought Tiger Woods closer to the very reason he came to the Masters.
He turned his head from side to side so he could make eye contact with fans as he walked off the green. He looked more at ease as he tried to make good on his pledge to be a better person.
But as much as Woods talks about repairing his image from a sex scandal, he ultimately will be judged by the number on his scorecard.
“Why do you think he’s here?” said Jack Nicklaus, whose 18 majors remains the benchmark Woods is chasing. “I don’t think he’s here for his health or anything. He’s here to play golf. That’s what he is. He’s a very good golfer. It’s the first major of the year. He’s taking large steps to get his life back in order, and he wants to play golf.
“He’s excited about wanting to play, and I think that’s great for him. And I think that’s great for the game.”
Each day brings Woods closer to Thursday, and the start of a Masters where he commands more attention than usual.
Even a routine practice round with old friend Mark O’Meara turned surreal when Woods crouched on the 10th green and peered into his cell phone. It looked ominous. Only three weeks ago, a porn star who claims to have had a three-year affair with Woods released on her Web site what she said were salacious text messages from Woods.
Turns out he was using it to videotape O’Meara.
“He was helping me with my putting,” he said. “I had a loop in my putting stroke. He wanted to film my putting stroke.”
The audience will get even larger Thursday, courtesy of a starting time at 1:42 p.m. Woods will be in the penultimate group for the second straight year, joined by K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar. It fits perfectly into ESPN’s live television coverage that starts at 4 p.m.
Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who have 10 green jackets between them, were surprised when Woods chose not to play before the Masters. No one goes to Augusta National without knowing what to expect.
Along with rust from not having struck a meaningful shot since winning the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, Woods has accumulated plenty of emotional baggage from the scandal.
“It’s a very stressful course to play when you’re in a major championship,” British Open champion Stewart Cink said. “It’s a really difficult test, and it comes at you with every shot. If your game is up to it, and your mentality is up to it, then you can succeed and you can play well and have some confidence.
“But if you are wavering in any way, the course just identifies that and it just spits you out.”
Woods has never come to Augusta National with so many questions about his game. He twice sat out for nine weeks before the U.S. Open, missing the cut in 2006 after his father died, winning in 2008 at Torrey Pines after knee surgery.
Winged Foot is not one of his favorites. Torrey Pines is like his own playground. Augusta National is somewhere in between. Despite being a four-time champion, Woods has won only once in seven years as the course has been revamped.
“I don’t think anybody expected him to play well in the 2008 U.S. Open,” Phil Mickelson said. “I don’t think anybody out here will question his ability to perform at the highest level, even though he has not competed in however many months. So I think from a player’s point of view, we expect to see the same player that we have always seen.”