The Tiger Woods story is caught somewhere between awed nostalgia and anticipation. There could be no greater outcome for the Augusta stakeholders and the galleries filing through the gates than a Tiger Woods victory on Sunday. Woods is, in a sense, a witness to his own legend such is the fawning nature of the Masters experience for him, the green jacket community in thrall to the Tiger brand, making his appearance a thing of celebration and salutation from the moment he appears. That he is 43 years old with only one win in the past five years does not raise an eyebrow.
Woods appreciates the sentiment and the heightened degree of comfort that Masters week brings, the retreat of technology, the ban on mobile phones, on media and officials inside the ropes all contributing to a familiar sense of time and place. “It’s nice isn’t it. This event is pure golf, just player and caddie out there playing, no other distractions inside the ropes. Sometimes there can be as many as 100 people following us. That can be distracting. You see some of the greatest golf that has ever been played. And that is one of the reasons.”
The talk of winning carries a little more weight and credibility after his victory at the Tour Championship six months ago and his run at the Open and PGA championship when he notionally contested the lead on the final day at each. He is, after all, ranked 12th in the world and has two top tens in five starts this year. Indeed, there are some, like former PGA Tour winner John Cook, who remain permanently invested in the idea of Woods’ omnipotence. “Who would you back to hole those putts on the back nine on Sunday?” he asked as if the last decade had not happened.
When asked to reflect on the ten years since his 14th and last major triumph, even Woods is a little taken aback at the poor returns, despite his exposure to domestic crisis and injury. “I would say that I wouldn’t have foreseen that, for sure. After I won my 14th, I felt like I still had plenty more major championships that I could win, but unfortunately I just didn’t do it. I put myself there with chances on the back nine on various Sundays and just haven’t done it.”
The win at Eastlake in Atlanta, home of the great Bobby Jones, whose vision has grown into arguably the most prestigious championship in golf, connected Woods to one of America’s most significant historic figures, not that he needs any narrative heft.
“It proved to me that I could win again. I was close a couple times. I was close at Tampa. I was close at The Open Championship, had the lead there. I was making a run at Brooksy at the PGA.
“I just needed to clean up my rounds and maybe needed to get a break here or there. I was finally able to do that. And when I look back upon that week, it’s not only how it culminated with everyone on 18, but I led from day one.
“That’s not easy to do. And from the struggles I’ve had the last few years, to go out and take the lead on the first day and then end up winning the tournament, to lead it wire to wire, that made it that much more special.”
We are, of course, back where it all began for Woods, where the light and the heat first touched us. For the naysayers among us who thought he was done, Augusta might yet be too hot to handle on Sunday.