Tiger prowl set for Masters weekend

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The 15-time major champion sits seven shots back. M. James Ward reviews his play and what to expect for the final 36 holes.
Posted on
April 13, 2024
by
M. James Ward in ,
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

AUGUSTA, GA. There are no additional superlatives one can say of Tiger Woods. His return this week to the Augusta National was one of total uncertainty in terms of what his golf game would produce.

He had not played since the Genesis Invitational back in February. In addition, the last time Woods was in the Masters in 2023 he withdrew during the weekend because of pain in his foot.

For the 88th Masters his play over two rounds has demonstrated Woods can still work his way around a golf course. His scores of 73-72 for a 145 total were easily within the high cut-line of 148.

This weekend will mark the 24th consecutive time Woods has played weekend rounds at Augusta National. That number tops the previous record co-shared by Gary Player and Fred Couples respectively.

Tiger Woods hits on the driving range during a practice round
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

If Woods completes 72 holes on Sunday, that round will mark his 100th during the Masters.

Woods has acknowledged the significance of the consecutive cuts streak but this Tiger has his eyes set on bigger game – a record tying 6th green jacket.

His post round comments illustrated that.

"It means I have a chance going into the weekend. I'm here. I have a chance to win the golf tournament."

Is such a sentiment realistic?

Or simply the internal competitive fire that has always burned longer and more intense with Woods than any player since the peak years of Jack Nicklaus.

One has to rewind the clock to five years ago when Woods earned his 15th major title – ending a period of 11 years since claiming the 2008 U.S. Open in dramatic fashion by playing on a broken leg.

The reality is that his 2019 win is five years removed and Woods is now 48 years old. In 2019 he was only one shot behind the leaders. The hill this time is much steeper.

But the unshakeable confidence is still front and center.

"If everything comes together – I think I can get one more."

The Woods of 2024 features a swing centered more around his upper body. Several surgeries on his back, legs and right foot have forced him to make adjustments.

Remarkably, for each of the first two rounds his driving was sound - hitting 11 of 14 fairways. Granted fairways at Augusta National are wider than at any major venue – but the accomplishment given Tiger's inability to consistently hit his driver demonstrates a clear improvement.

More noticeable was that whenever bogey happened, he fashioned a serious bounce back with birdie on several occasions. Tiger's resolve as a competitor is embedded within his body. The issue in recent years is whether his body can somehow find a way to execute as called upon.

Tiger Woods
(George Walker IV/AP)

Golf ratings this year are off in the range of 20%. Unquestionably, all the off-course back and forth regarding LIV and the PGA TOUR has not been helpful. The resulting verbal jabs between different players has kept golf fans on edge wondering if some form of long-term stability is possible.

Getting Woods back into the limelight – even in the most limited of circumstances -- is enough to get golf fans parked in front of television sets.

The cumulative surgeries have forced Woods into a clear reality that he has only so much golf in his body. The hope earlier this season was that Tiger would play in at least one event per month. After his pull out at Riviera the question mark of whether Woods would return at all during the 2024 season was not entirely dismissed.

Pro golf does not have a post-Tiger answer.

Undoubtedly, the impact Woods has made extends far beyond golf. Seeing him once again on the prowl of the verdant grounds of Augusta National allows golf fans to rejoice if for nothing more than a limited appearance.

Woods does not want to be seen simply as a ceremonial golfer who can no longer compete and clogs the field with his involvement. Walking fairways to adoring galleries means little to him if he can't demonstrate the wherewithal to be truly relevant.

And relevancy comes with one crucial dimension – putting up the scores when called upon.

Tiger Woods smiles
Tiger Woods insists he can win a sixth Masters title and 16th major (Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

It's the competition that is the juice for Tiger. Being aware each shot has total meaning. The second round proved to be a constant grind and as the afternoon wore on a golfing minefield waiting for the slightest of missteps.

Woods had to endure a 7:50 AM start time to finish the remaining holes from the first round. A short break followed and then back onto the course to play 18 holes.

To complete 23 holes and still demonstrate a capacity to score shows the resolve of Tiger. There are no participation trophies and Woods pushed himself to stay in the conversation.

The weekend play will show how much Tiger has left in the tank. A win is likely doubtful given the number of players between him and the three co-leaders.

An improbable win at 48 would eclipse the Nicklaus record in being the oldest champion at 46 in 1986.

The prowl is back for Tiger. Stalking the course is the fuel that drives his engine. No one can say – including Woods – how many more times we shall see him compete for a major on weekend play.

Woods looks at the leader board on the 18th hole as he eyes a sixth title
Tiger Woods looks at the leader board on the 18th hole as he eyes a sixth Masters title (George Walker IV/AP)

Golf fans should soak it all in for the final two rounds. Woods has rekindled a burning passion that lies at his core. As Tiger mentioned during his pre-tournament press conference, he still loves the game deeply.

Might Sunday's walk up the 18th fairway be a final curtain call?

It may or may not be.

The joy Woods gets when competing is palpable. Like any Tiger – watch his eyes and the manner by which he goes about his business.

One thing is certain – must see television is here and Woods remains, like Reggie Jackson said years ago, the stir that makes the drink.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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