Tiger does not look ready to play like an old man
5: 18 PM ET
Wright ThompsonSenior Writer
- Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN and is executive producer of TrueSouth and co-executive producer of Backstory. He is the author of The Cost of These Dreams, a New York Times bestseller.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — The last of the morning spring chill, murder on Tiger Woods‘ aching, reconstructed leg, burned off as he started his round at the Masters. It was nice to be in the shade at Augusta National. The first hole was surrounded by huge crowds. It was almost as if there had been no one else on the first hole.
Everything stopped at 11: 04 a.m. ET on Thursday to see Woods. Tournament employees abandoned their stations and rushed towards the ropes, as the major problem with professional golf came once more into focus: The most interesting thing in the sport isn’t the current stars showcasing their skills but whether a 46-year-old man can even walk around the course. Tiger Tiger isn’t the only story in golf. But he is the story that matters most to everyone who isn’t really into golf. The energy was palpable at Augusta National Golf Club’s first round. As he stood watching the ball, the crowd cheered him on and roared when it made contact. He walked like a man, trying to avoid limping.
He was the victim of his violent swing, his own bad decisions and bad luck. But, in the end, the legacy he leaves behind will be determined by his refusal to be a victim. He could have quit after his car wreck. The 2019 Masters bought him peace. He’s still here. It doesn’t matter what Tiger Woods is trying to achieve, it doesn’t matter how much it affects his fellow golfers. As there are always two races when Woods is at an event, there were two. One is a battle between a group of talented competitors in a niche sport. One of the most watched men of his generation is engaged with his body in combat. He will win if he just makes it to the end, regardless of whether he wins.
He says he can win.
” “I can hit it just fine,” said he. “Walking is the hardest part. “
Tiger was unsure of his future. He saw danger all around him at Augusta. Three golf legends took the annual ceremonial opening shots on Thursday morning as Tiger was being treated by his pit crew. The crowds let loose tremendous roars for Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson, who were allowed the rare privilege of feeling a little of the magic they once took for granted as younger men.
Augusta chairman Fred Ridley announces the first tee shots from Masters honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson.
“I get quite choked up when I get on that tee in the morning,” Player said.
The three legends then rolled into the interview area for a big saccharine nostalgia tour — a glimpse of what Tiger Woods will face once he has given up on competing for titles. It didn’t feel like it was imminent to watch him on Thursday. He is trying to avoid being one of the museum pieces that hit ceremonial shots. It’s hard to know when it’s time to go.
” “There’s nothing worse that watching a drunk boxer and athletes attempt to make comebacks,” Player stated. The three men were laughing about their golf games and Player raised his chest.
“If I may boast for a minute,” he said, “I’ve beaten my age over 2,000 times in a row. In a row. “
” You’ve got it,” Jack said. “We are not challenging you. “
They were all rolling.
“I shot my age the first time when I was 64,” Nicklaus said.
“Me too,” Watson stated.
“Me, too,” said Player, who is 86. “Isn’t that interesting, all three of us did it at 64? “
That’s 18 years from now for Tiger Woods, who believes with reason that he has majors yet to win. He doesn’t find joy in just getting around the fairway.
“He doesn’t want to play to play,” his friend Fred Couples said. “He can play at his home. “
But the long, pleasant path to nostalgia is ahead. He can see it. Earlier this week at the Champions Dinner, Woods sat around a table as Watson got Nicklaus to take all the former winners through the 1986 back nine, when Jack won his final major, when he was the same age Tiger is now.
“Would you like me to take you shot by shot? Nicklaus asked.
“Hell no,” Watson replied.
So Jack did the job yard by yard with everyone leaning in.
” I was looking around the table,” Watson stated, “The guys at the table were just –they wanted to hear — since everyone at that table had been there before, winning that tournament. It was clear that they wanted to hear what Jack was thinking as he played the final nine holes. “
Jack spoke and Tiger listened. He was still a man trying to get an edge, absorbing information, trying to write his story while he knows that his storytelling winter is fast approaching. His time as the doer of deeds is running short, maybe 10 more years if his back and leg cooperate. While the rest of the field is trying to win a tournament this week, Tiger is wrestling with gravity that brings great champions back to earth.
He fought valiantly on Thursday. He scored three birdies. He hit more than a few tee shots. After a swing, he grabbed his back. He showed everyone his pain by wearing it on the outside. It was obvious that he was not hiding it. He threw a tuft into the air at Amen Corner, and stared down into the tunnel blankly. His shots all seemed to land a little too short. Tiger shouted from the pine straw, “F— Off!” after one of his misbehaving balls rolled off the green. “
His swing held. His body was mostly stable. He once used his driver as a cane. Once, he spoke to himself and asked for help from the air.
“Hey, leg! “F—. “
On his back nine, he had to lie in the pine straw. This required one of those Tiger moments. He closed his eyes for about three to four seconds. Some observers believed he was preparing for the pain. He then centered himself and unleashed a massive swing. His body twisted and rattled with gunshot recoil. It was perfect.
He finished Friday’s second round with momentum and saved par at the last hole. He finished at 1 under five hours after he began, just a few strokes shy of the lead. His first competitive round in 17 months was a success. He finally left the course after enduring the long ritual to remove the swelling from his leg. He is still a public man who chases something private, which is both brave and quixotic. Perhaps a distant version of him is watching with pride and amusement, knowing exactly how it all must end.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.