The Masters got interesting Friday, and not because Jordan Spieth has turned it into his major championship to lose. There was a sighting of Tiger Woods, missing in action for about a year, at the second round at Augusta National, and that cheering you hear is from the CBS executives who are relieved that the most interesting golfer in the world made the cut and gets to play for the weekend.
Nielsen ratings have been decisive: People pass on watching golf when Woods isn’t playing. Considering he showed strong, consistent form Friday and that it’s the first major of the year, the Masters’ viewing public grew exponentially after he carded a 3-under 69.
He will not win the Masters this weekend, which is not a surprise to almost anyone who has seen him play the role of professional hacker the last year.
But he made the cut with ease, a question that was not even a question when he was right. Significantly, his short game, which looked like a 20-handicapper’s at times, has been brilliant at a place where short-game brilliance is not easy.
This is particularly satisfying because analysts like the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee called Woods’ pitching, chipping and putting “incomprehensible” last month. He said Woods’ poor short game play would continue because it would take longer than two months to fix.
How arrogant? Chamblee is a former PGA Tour player who could not beat Woods if Tiger gave him three strokes a side.
But Chamblee continues to fire off the sharpest criticisms of Woods, to the point where it seems personal. Really, how could he know how long it would take Woods to regain his short-game feel?
Phil Mickelson, a player who has been outstanding in his Hall of Fame career, basically told Chamblee to kick rocks when he gave this assessment of Woods’ short game last week:
“I think that Tiger’s going to have the last laugh. I think that his, his short game, historically, is one of the best of all time. I think his golf game is probably the best of all time. I think the short game is, when you haven’t played, it’s the first thing to feel uncomfortable and the quickest thing to get back. I think that he’s — I don’t think he’s going to have any problems, I really don’t. I think we all, myself included, have had stretches where we feel a little uncomfortable, we don’t hit it solid, and usually it’s just a small tweak. Because it’s such a short swing that it’s not a hard thing to fix. I just don’t see that lasting more than a week or two.”
Who you gonna buy? Chamblee, who sits in a studio criticizing, or Mickelson, once a Woods rival who still plays at a high level on the PGA Tour?
Anyway, Woods worked his way around Augusta National with aplomb, saving pars on 14 and 17 with quality pitches and putts. Best of all, he seemed comfortable and healthy.
Woods’ struggles have been physical to some degree. But the mental damage that comes with not swinging the club as you had is immeasurable. Stand over a shot and not be sure of where it’s going to go, it’s likely not to go where you want it. That’s the struggle with golf, the challenge.
If Woods’ first two days at the Masters are an indication of what is to come, then we will see him rise from the 104th world ranking position he holds.
Believe this: Golf hopes for just that. Spieth has been amazing and, at 21, has the look of a superstar in the making. It will take a collapse of enormous proportions for him to not be fitted for his first Masters green jacket Sunday.
And there are Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Ricky Fowler, Patrick Reed and other young talents who will win and impress.
But they are not Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods makes people watch, whether you root for him or not.