AUGUSTA, Ga. – The details will always likely be vague, Tiger Woods offering only a few hints as to the process needed to get ready to play golf. He referenced ice, and lots of it. Specifically, ice baths and all that entails.
How about ice in the veins?
Woods made no reference to it Friday, but there sure must be some of that going on at Augusta National.
How else to explain battling back from a poor start, powering through the pain he must feel in his right leg, making the cut with plenty of shots to spare, and looking forward to a weekend at the Masters?
“He made the cut on one leg,’’ said caddie Joe LaCava. “That’s pretty good.’’
Woods, 46, the five-time Masters winner, has never missed a Masters cut in 22 starts as a pro. The only time he missed was in 1996, his second Masters, when he played as an amateur. The following year? He won by 12 shots.
The 15-time major winner overcame bogeys on four of his first five holes to shoot 2-over-par 74 on a difficult day that included cool temperatures and swirling winds.
At 145, 1 over par, Woods made the cut by four shots and stands tied for 19th. He is nine shots behind second-round leader Scottie Scheffler. But as Woods noted, he is just four shots out of second place, which is held by four players.
“I'm proud of the fact that my whole team got me into this position,’’ Woods said. “We worked hard to get me here to where I had an opportunity and then not to have, as I said, any setbacks this week, and we haven't. Kept progressing.
“Along the way I kept getting my feels and hitting shots. I was able to practice and get my touch, practice on my short game, hit a lot of putts, which was great. Start seeing break again. I've been in Florida. I haven't played the (PGA) Tour in forever, so we don't see break.
“Start seeing 10 feet of break, you've got to get used to it to the eye, and I haven't played a lot of competitive golf. So it's taken a little bit to get used to it, but I finally got my eye back.’’
As the first few holes unfolded, things didn’t look good. Woods found a fairway bunker off both the first and second tees. He couldn’t save par at the first, couldn’t make birdie at the second. The wind got him at both the third and fourth holes. A wayward drive led to another bogey at the fifth.
Rob McNamara, Woods’ longtime friend and de facto coach, was straining to see like everyone else outside of the ropes. “It’s just tough,’’ he said. “The conditions are difficult. The wind knocks the ball down and it leads to a couple of bogeys.’’
McNamara, more than anyone, knows what Woods must endure these days to play a round of golf. Nobody in Woods’ circle is going to go into detail, but it’s clear the process is far from easy.
The back issues that caused him so much grief over the past nine years did not magically go away. He has a fused spine, and that needs attention. Now, too, do the injuries suffered in the car crash on Feb. 23, 2021. That is what the golf world now focuses upon, and the slight limp with which Woods moves is a constant reminder.
Perhaps some slow starts will be inevitable. Woods has had only so much time to refine his game. It is nitpicking to analyze his game in such detail, but he had chances to make that round better. A poor chip from behind the 15th. A missed opportunity to make a birdie putt at the 16th. Some of that may be due to rust. He’s hit just 18 of 36 greens in regulation.
Woods made what appeared to be a routine birdie at the eighth, a good par save at the ninth. And then he hit his shot of the tournament at the par-4 10th, a 5-iron from 218 yards that he drilled to 2 feet for a kick-in birdie.
“That 5-iron on 10 was kind of like the old days,’’ LaCava said. “It’s all good. It was fun.’’
Joaquin Niemann, who is in contention at 1 under par and played with Woods the first two rounds, was impressed.
“I think today he hit it way better than yesterday,’’ Niemann said. “He looked great. He's (hit some) amazing tee shots, some amazing iron shots. On 10 today he was amazing. So, yeah, he's still got it.’’
It might not have always looked that way, but of course perspective is in order. This is Woods’ first official event in 17 months. It’s two rounds of golf and not only did he manage to make the cut, he put himself in a nice position.
More poor weather awaits Saturday with cold temperatures that won’t reach 60 and plenty of wind. Woods in his prime would have relished such a day. And while it is likely to cause him some physical problems, you get the sense the current Woods doesn’t mind it that much, either.
“Tomorrow is going to be tough,’’ he said. “It's going to be windy. It's going to be cool. It's going to be the Masters that I think the Masters Committee has been looking forward to for a number of years. We haven't had it like this.
“It's going to be exciting, and it's going to be fun for all of us.’’
Woods is again relishing the challenge, which entails far more than we could possibly know.
More Round 2 Coverage from Morning Read
- Scheffler Opens Five-Shot Lead on Fun Day for Few
- Amen Corner was a Survival Test and Not Everyone Did
- Schwartzel Summons Old Masters Vibes to Contend
- Tiger 'Just Another Golfer' Expecting More Now
- The most compelling Tea Olive in Augusta
- Watch: Masters Day 3 Preview