AUGUSTA, Ga. — A baseball game broke out at a golf tournament on Friday afternoon aslate in his second round at Augusta National. Woods staved off that man (more on that in a second) and much more en route to a stellar Round 2 that closed in a flurry at the 2019 Masters.
Let’s start at the beginning. Tiger’s first nine was confusing. He made birdies at the long par 3s at Nos. 4 and 6, but then he bogeyed one of the three easiest holes on the course in the par-5 8th. However, a long birdie at the 9th set the table for a whirlwind of a second nine.
A lot happened in a short amount of time. Tiger made the only birdie of the day in the 87-golfer field at the par-4 11th to get to 4 under on the week. Then he gamely stuck his shot on the tricky par-3 12th. The crowd was juiced at that point, and Woods was feeling it. So of course the horn blew and players were held in place as storms passed through.
“I was hoping we’d get the round in. I didn’t want to come back and play [Saturday] and finish it up and go back out in the afternoon and do that again,” Woods told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after the round. “We might have to do that on Sunday or Monday, we’ll see what happens. I was able to finish the round. That was nice.”
It ended up being more than nice, though Woods missed the subsequent birdie putt on No. 12 and couldn’t get one to go at No. 13 either. Then came the inflection point of the tournament so far. After badly pulling his drive at the 14th down the left side, Woods hit a low spinning bullet to 28 feet. But that wasn’t all! In the mayhem following that shot, an overzealous security guard slipped and slid into Tiger’s ankle, nearly taking him out!
“It just … it is what it is. Accidents happen and you move on,” Woods told Rinaldi. Tiger confirmed that it ultimately did not affect him and he does not anticipate any ill effects moving forward at Augusta. “I’m good, dude,” he added. “… Other than having four knee surgeries and four back surgeries, I’m great.”
Woods stretched his ankle and shook off the blow. He went on to bury the 28-footer putt for birdie, but that wasn’t even close to the apex. After laying up with his second shot on the par-5 15th, Woods hit a so-so approach to 30 feet. He canned that one, too, unfurling a rarely-seen Friday afternoon uppercut, presumably aimed at the rest of the field, particularly those ahead of him on the leaderboard. It was a swift one-two blast I didn’t see coming, and it got him within one of a huge group at the top of the board at 7 under.
Woods closed with three straight pars for a 4-under 68 on Friday — he missed a short birdie putt on the 17th and came 1 excruciating inch away from a birdie on the 18th — to post a two-day total of 6-under 138. He sits at T6, one back of a group of five golfers at the top, among them Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott and Louie Oosthuizen.
“It was fun,” Woods told Rinaldi. “I felt like I left a few shots out there, but overall it was a solid day. I was very patient, just kind of hung in there and kept grinding. Tried to make a birdie when I could, if I had a green light situation, tried to attack.”
It is Woods’ best start to a Masters since he began the 2011 version 71-66 and went on to finish T4 as Charl Schwartzel took his first green jacket.
We’re almost a decade removed from that, though, and a lot has happened in the interim, most of it lousy for Woods at this tournament. He has one top-10 finish in his four appearances since 2011 but hasn’t truly contended like he is this year.
Woods does not believe he’s far off from winning another major. He told Rinaldi he has been “right there” at his last three majors, holding a lead at the 2018 Open before trying to make a run on Koepka at the 2018 PGA Championship.
After Thursday’s round in which Woods fired off a better-than-it-seemed 70, the big question was whether he could back it up with something even better and position himself among the leaders (or even out in front of them) going into the weekend. The definitive and resounding answer was a pair of fist pumps over the final five holes. You don’t even need to know the scores or the context of the tournament to know that the contention is real.
With a fifth green jacket hanging in the balance late on Friday and everyone’s attention wavering at the end of a long, watery, hot two-day stretch, Woods grabbed the heart of the tournament and pumped the thing to life.
Now comes the weekend, closing time for future champions. Woods has been in this position at this place so many times before. He’s surrounded by great ones — Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and that string of major-winning leaders at 7 under among them — and he likely won’t bend this place toward himself for a fifth time in the last 22 years.
But Friday was a reminder that the most important question in golf is the cheeky hypothetical that always revolves around the biggest draw in sports. When everything is chaotic (and a security guard trying to take you out certainly qualifies as chaotic) with so many moving parts, the question that remains is the only one that matters as it pertains to Tiger and winning major championships:
What if, you know, he does it?