At this point, it would be reasonable to assume that Tiger Woods is beyond career firsts. This is not the case and, in this case, not for the right reasons.
Woods’ famous spell at Augusta National had never included playing holes 1 through 5 on four over par. Until the second day of the 86th edition of the Masters, that is to say. As Woods worked hard under the toughest conditions, Thursday’s fairy tale had turned into Friday’s nightmare.
The 15-time major champion was embroiled in a battle just to survive for the final 36 holes of this tournament. Television executives, aware of viewership figures rocketed into new stratospheres by Woods’ unlikely involvement, were walking out in cold sweats.
What happened next provided proof, if it were really needed, that the most reckless thing in sport would be to strike Woods out. There was the direct birdie in the 8th. On the most heart-pounding 10th hole, Woods played one of the tournament’s approach shots to set up a birdie. The aberrations at the next two holes – he missed a short putt for par on the 11th and couldn’t save a three from a back bunker on the next – were made up for by back-to-back birdies.
Woods’ final redemption tale will therefore include 72 holes in Augusta. Whether he can joust for what would be a sixth Masters title remains to be seen – the imperious Scottie Scheffler is among those standing in his way – but how he bounced back from such a shaky opening in the second round was arguably more impressive than day one turned 71. Woods still looks physically comfortable; it’s still incredibly resilient.
Woods was upset he didn’t birdie on the par five 15th and spurned a chance after a glorious iron in the par three 16th. Work was needed to save par on the penultimate hole after a tame first putt, but Woods saved a par four on the last. Overall, that added up to 74 and a total of plus one. Considering what was happening before the 6th tee, Tiger was right to purr. He will, no doubt, always have thoughts of Georgia’s triumph.
Player after player arrived for media duties after the round to express how difficult this place was. Winds blew and temperatures dropped in a style not at all common here. The bad news for these contestants is that the scene looks identical for rounds three and four. Only the strongest will survive.
Scheffler, the world No. 1, went six under and three minus for the day thanks to a birdie in the 13th that was out of context with the struggles of so many others. Until then, Charl Schwartzel and Im Sung-jae, both three-under, sat proudly atop the leaderboard. By the end of the game, Scheffler had signed for a 67. His eight under par means a five-under lead; any player with such leeway after 36 holes of a Masters has won. No pressure, Scottie.
After his round, Scheffler told American television that the secret to his success had been “managing my way down the course…when I’m out of position, I’ve done a good job of getting the ball back into play. “. The 25-year-old appeared relaxed about being the player to beat this weekend. “If anything, it gives me more confidence. When I saw that I had taken the lead today, my first thought was to keep trying to build it.
Shane Lowry, playing in the toughest conditions of the day, posted a 68 to join Schwartzel, Im and defending champion Hideki Matsuyama in a share of second place. A back nine from 33 justifiably made the Offaly man smile.
Dustin Johnson is hovering with intent at two minus. The 2020 champion may have a point to prove; at the time of his victory there were no spectators at Augusta and the course was as defenseless as the November date would imply. This time it’s a major attrition.
The outlook for Collin Morikawa, the Open champion, is bolstered by the theory that Augusta rewards strong iron players. He is widely regarded as the best in the business on this front. Not that the Californian has much time for outside opinion this week.
“I think my problem is that I listen to everyone rather than trusting me on how to play on this golf course,” Morikawa said after a 70 edged him out to one under. “That’s the hardest thing, you hear all these things about this course and you really don’t know how to play it until you actually show up.
“I just thought I could listen to everyone and play this type of game, but I felt comfortable on a lot of the tee shots, which is a big part here, and then I just got through. to make my way.”
For Stewart Cink, there was a defining moment in the 16th. He delivered the first hole of one of the tournaments, a very special moment for Cink given that his son is a caddy. “For this to happen is something I will always remember,” the 2009 Open champion said.
Justin Thomas came awfully close to matching Cink’s feat on the same hole, but it was still a profitable day for the 28-year-old, who responded to an opening 76 by firmly returning to the discussion of the tournament. He is now a sub.
Jordan Spieth’s failure to survive over the weekend owed much to the hole that mortally wounded his bid for a successful Masters defense in 2016. The Texan was in contention at one over par when he took the 12th tee , with chaos to follow. Spieth fired twice into Rae’s Creek, for a double bogey. He found water on the 13th, so he couldn’t take advantage of the submissive par five. A double bogey in the 18th characterized Spieth’s frustrations. For the first time in his career, he missed the cut here.
The same was true for Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele, Francesco Molinari and Fred Couples. DeChambeau’s week after returning from injury was particularly disastrous. He carded 80 for a total of 14 over par.
Sandy Lyle, the 1988 champ, said after his 82 and 76 innings that 2023 in Augusta would likely mark his last major appearance. Having participated in 100 of them, he has had his day.