AUGUSTA, Ga. – Just before lunchtime on Friday Tiger Woods emerged from his courtesy car in the champion’s parking lot. He was parked in the same spot he was when he won this tournament in 2019. It seems there are also plenty of unwritten rules at Augusta National.
The parking spot gives Tiger easy access to the clubhouse and the champion’s locker room on the second floor. It’s also just a short walk to the old putting green behind the first tee that Masters’ veterans prefer because it’s always been there.
But it wasn’t the seclusion of the locker room or the welcome familiarity of the old putting green that he sought Friday. Tiger’s first stop was the fitness trailer, which is tucked away on the far side of the sprawling tournament practice area. It was here where the magic would happen. Or not happen.
Tiger, who historically doesn’t volunteer information, has been clear on this ever since his SUV veered off a winding road in February 2021, careened across a median and tumbled to a stop in a ditch. There will be good days and bad days.
Friday was somewhere in between.
From now until the end of Tiger’s time as a professional golfer there will be a healthy dollop of perspective. Bogey the first? At least he was able to walk 18 holes. Bogey the third? You’re no longer confined to a hospital bed. Bogey the fourth? You have both legs.
The latter is a particularly sobering thought, and Tiger’s public answer each time he’s asked the extent of the damage his right leg endured when his SUV spiraled out of control in Los Angeles. At the time doctors explained amputation was a possibility and, Tiger being Tiger, he balked.
Fourteen months later, there he was on two legs making his way to the fitness trailer. He calls it activation.
Some observers would call his movements deliberate, while others might say pained, but then this was always going to be a test of will more than skill. He can still play golf. He proved that in December at the PNC Championship alongside his son, Charlie, and he wouldn’t have made the effort this week if he wasn’t encouraged by his game. This was about Tiger’s surgically rebuilt right leg and, to a greater degree, his willingness to compartmentalize the pain.
There was pain. That much is clear.
“My team has done a hell of a job getting me ready, getting the body after I break it out there, they go ahead and repair it at night,” he said. “I'm good at breaking it. They're good at fixing it.”
Tiger’s 92nd competitive round at the Masters might not have been the most testing of his career, but it certainly was the most painful to watch.
If Thursday’s 1-under 71 was a “scrappy” effort, as one member of Team Tiger explained, Friday’s 74 was scoured from the depths of the five-time Masters champion’s physical limitations.
The mind is still willing, but the body is an unknown quantity. For the second consecutive day he just wasn’t feeling it on the range, and early on Day 2 this version was lacking the savvy short game that made Thursday feel like a reason to celebrate.
He missed the green right at Nos. 1, 3 and 4 to start his day 3 over par and sailed his drive at the par-4 fifth hole into the trees right of the fairway for his fourth bogey of the day.
He rallied with his first birdie of the day at No. 8 and flushed his approach shot at the 10th hole for another.
He played Amen Corner in 1 over, rebounded with a birdie at No. 14, and capped a wild and windy day with four pars to finish.
It all added up to a 1 over total and a weekend tee time. Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Jordan Spieth can’t say the same, to mention just a few of the game’s stars who won’t be going the full 72. Maybe getting to Sunday was always the plan given the unique physical demands of Augusta National, and he seemed to subtly suggest as much.
“I told [caddie Joey LaCava] that, ‘Hey, we got a lot of holes to play. It's going to be tough all day, so let's get it back to even-par for the day somehow,’” he said. “If I can just stay at even-par for the day, I thought that would have been a pretty good comeback.”
Earlier Friday, Louis Oosthuizen withdrew from the tournament with an ailing neck just a day after Paul Casey succumbed to a short week with a bad back. And there was Tiger. Comparison shopping pain serves no purpose – and it should be noted that both Oosthuizen and Casey have been slowed by their ailments for some time – but whatever Tiger may have lost in that roadside heap early last year, know that the grit which carried him to a U.S. Open trophy on a broken leg and his fifth Masters victory on a rebuilt back remains.
“I expected to be sore and not feel my best for sure,” said Tiger, as if there were no alternative to his current path. “It's the combination. I can walk this golf course. I can put on tennis shoes and go for a walk. That's not a problem, but going ballistically at shots and hitting shot shapes off of uneven lies, that puts a whole new challenge to it.”
After speaking with the media, Tiger climbed the stairs to the champion’s locker room. It was no easy feat. There was no detour to the putting green or the practice range. Those days are over. Instead, he headed for his courtesy car, which was parked in its familiar spot. There was more therapy and ice and pain to endure before he starts the process all over again on Saturday, and somehow it all felt like a victory.