Coming into this year’s Masters the speculation on Tiger Woods performing at a high level was not really on the optimistic side. And for good reason.
The five-time winner of the green jacket and defending champion had not demonstrated much in terms of promising results beyond the star power of his name. Since the beginning of 2019 Woods has played just nine times — the best finish a tie for 9th at the Farmers Insurance Open, In the previous two majors played this year Woods could only muster a tie for 37th at the PGA Championship and a missed cut at the U.S. Open. To say Tiger looked lost in the “Woods” at Winged Foot was no pun but actual reality.
Throw all of that out the window because the 44-year-old displayed vintage form during the opening round of the 84th Masters. Woods equaled his best opening round in 23 appearances with a bogey-free four-under-par score of 68. That effort has him just three shots behind current leader Paul Casey who finished day’s play with an impressive seven-under-par 65. How significant was Tiger’s score? The last time Woods played a bogey free round in a major event goes back to the first round of the 2009 PGA Championship. That’s a span of 30 major championships ago.
Clean. 💯— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 12, 2020
🐯 Career-best opening round at the Masters.
🐯 First bogey-free opening round at the Masters.
🐯 First bogey-free round in a major in his last 106.@TigerWoods has found his form. 🐅 pic.twitter.com/hUWaKjHRa9
When 2019 ended Tiger was ranked as the 6th best player in the world. His ranking coming this week into Augusta had dropped to 33rd — the first time in two years he had dropped outside the top 30. Given the evidence of his play coming into Augusta there was little reason to believe Woods would come out of the gate on all cylinders as he did in the opening round.
Tiger’s round was delayed nearly three hours because of thunderstorms that passed through in the morning hours but the real thunder came with his play. The stats spell out the details clearly — Tiger reached 15 of 18 greens in the regulation stroke and found 10 of 14 fairways. Woods began play on the long par-4 10th — the Masters using a split tee situation for the first time given the shortage of daylight hours in November — and his body language gave clear signals he was ready to enter the mix.
For a man who looked utterly lost in his last four starts with three finishes failing to break the top 50 and including a missed cut — the turnabout was striking.
“It was awesome to be out there,” said Woods. “Much different atmosphere with no patrons and the electricity is just not there. The fact that we’re able to have a Masters and have this opportunity to compete for a green jacket is pretty amazing.”
Woods highlighted his awareness level on how to play Augusta National and his strong start came quickly on the opening nine with birdies at the 13th, 15th and 16th holes. In reaching the 1st hole, his 10th hole of the day, Woods accelerated his momentum with a striking birdie accentuated by a fist pump that’s been missing for quite some time.
Tiger’s game has been hampered by a faulty putter but his pace on the greens throughout the 1st round was exceptional. His approach play demonstrated iron shots consistently placing him in positions where makeable putts were doable.
Woods summed up his efforts succinctly.
“It’s just experience. It’s understanding how to play this golf course. Years of playing practice rounds with guys who know how to play it — I’ve played with lot of past champions. Over the years I’ve developed my own game plans and learned my own little nuances .There is a sense of ease when I come here because I understand how to prepare for this golf course and there is no other major championship that plays every year at the same venue.”
Woods has always demonstrated a candor about the state of his golf game and, more importantly, the high bar he seeks to attain whenever he tees it up. To paraphrase the famed quote from two-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells — you are what your golf score says you are. Tiger’s 68 does not automatically mean a record tying 6th green jacket is a certainty but his wherewithal to get out of the blocks in fine fashion sends a strong message that he is not going to give back the green jacket he earned in April 2019 so quickly or easily.
Tiger is fist-pumping. 🚨— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 12, 2020
Another birdie to get to -4 and he’s just one shot back of the lead.pic.twitter.com/Av0ZSZsvv5
“I did everything well today and I’m looking forward to whenever I play tomorrow sometime.” Woods won’t be teeing it up until around 3:00 PM local time for his 2nd round and it’s likely that round will not conclude until early Saturday before the 3rd round gets underway.
Yes, a number of other big names are in the mix but Woods, like Frank Sinatra, is the main headliner who commands the audience’s attention. Can Tiger sustain the momentum from round one?
We shall soon see.