Augusta – On the first hole of the first day of his 15th Masters, Tiger Woods stepped to the tee when suddenly the silence in the gallery was pierced by somebody yelling, “Medic!”
A spectator had collapsed less than 20 feet away. Fans and officials came to the man’s aid, and he turned out to be fine. But with the eventual first tee shot coming while someone remained sprawled on the ground, it set a bizarre tone for Woods in this Masters.
Three rounds later, the expected star of this show still isn’t quite in synch.
It’s a Masters Sunday, but Tiger Woods is significantly off the radar. He looks uncomfortable on a course that once seemed like his living room. After shooting 2-under on day one and par on day two, many expected a market correction. Didn’t happen.
Woods needed to grind just to overcome himself Saturday, let alone the 18 names ahead of him on the leaderboard to start the day. He hooked his drive into the trees and double-bogeyed the first hole. Three of his first six drives landed in the woods.
There’s a general rule of thumb in golf: If your fans keep racing through trees and pine straw to look for your ball and the left of the fairway strangely resembles a 7,000-person safari, it’s probably not going to be a good day.
If Tiger Woods isn’t viewed as toast in this Masters, it’s only because we’re all perpetually drunk from his past otherworldly feats. But don’t count on a Sunday phenomenon. Woods buried himself early Saturday, scrambled back to finish the round at 2-under, but still enters the final day with an uncommonly mortal score of 4-under through 54 holes.
He is seven shots off the lead. Even worse, he has nine golfers ahead of him and eight tied with him.
“Overall I just wasn’t quite comfortable today for some reason,” Woods said. “Hopefully tomorrow, I’ll have it.”
Tiger Woods doesn’t “hope.” Tiger Woods just does.
When Tiger Woods hopes, something is off.
That win at Bay Hill two weeks ago? It wasn’t a forecast, it was an aberration.
He double-bogeyed the first hole. He hit his first two tee shots and two more Saturday into the woods. He has been just off enough with his irons to make a significant difference on an unforgiving course.
On the greens? He three-putted two holes (Nos. 1 and 11). He has missed several potential birdies. He has 92 putts over 54 holes – seventh most among the remaining 50 golfers in the field.
“I haven’t made a lot of putts and when I’ve had iron shots I didn’t hit them stiff,” Woods said. “All week I’ve been one yard off, two yards off, and when you miss these ridges on the wrong side — at nine I missed the hump by a yard, and [was left with] a 40-footer up hill. That’s the way it’s been all week.”
On the par-5 second hole, Woods managed to save par after he dropped to one knee to hit an 8-iron out of the woods (about 12 yards) and then hit the edge of the green with his third shot. Then he two-putted. Sympathy applause.
He nearly holed the 180-yard sixth hole. But the ball hit the flag stick and rolled off the green. Two putt. Par. More sympathy applause.
For much of Saturday, he was over par and looked like the lesser half of the Woods-Graham McDowell pairing. But then he birdied 13, 15 and 17. He scrambled to save par on 18, which he already has bogeyed twice.
“I’ve got to suck it up and move on,” Woods said.
Moving up – that will be a little more difficult.
Jeff Schultz, fighting to stay relevant with peeps under 40, can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook, Tweeter (SchultzAJC) or carrier pigeon (make a right off 400).