Whatever you’ve been working on, drilling into your numb skull, suddenly disappears with the dawn; you find yourself deep in the left woods off the first tee. Then, suddenly, you’re taking a drop in the jungle at No. 2. Who’s hitting these shots? What gremlin has inhabited your body? Then, before you know it, you’ve snapped your tee ball so far left at the ninth that you’re suddenly playing the first. Again.
We all know these helpless feelings at our own humble levels of the game. The “new” seems so easy on the driving range. But step to the tee and that old original-sin swing you thought you’d divorced forever — that Dreaded Ex — is right back in your bag.
But in the first round at Augusta National it was Woods who felt that panic, as if another being had inhabited him. From those first two hooks to his bogey-bogey finish, including a penalty stroke after his drive at the 18th, Woods battled with himself and the memories bequeathed to him by Haney as well as muddy, stinky Augusta National.
Call the day a bloody 18-hole draw — an even-par 72 that left Woods well behind many fine players, in a 16-way tie for 29th place, but still within five shots (gulp) of former world No. 1 Lee Westwood. Somebody should have rung a bell and wiped off Tiger’s head covers every time he stepped to the next tee. Because Haney, ready to jab his synapses and hook his neurons, was waiting every time Woods took out his driver.
“Same old motor [memory] issues,” Woods said after five wild hooks and three mud balls when he finally found fairways and squandered an opportunity at a fine round after he reached the 13th tee — the place to start a charge — at a tempting 2 under par. “It was the Hank backswing with a whole new down swing.”
You don’t even have to play golf to know that won’t work. Walk downstairs, but think really, really hard about how you are doing it. Welcome to the emergency ward.
The professional gamblers of the golf universe installed Woods as the favorite at this Masters. They apparently have no idea just what an enormous job lies ahead of Woods before he can win another major title. As a corollary, we probably won’t grasp what an amazing achievement it will be for Woods when he finally does it. How many different brain lobes can be in fundamental transition at once?
Tiger won a full-field PGA Tour event for the first time in 30 months just two weeks ago at Arnold Palmer’s backyard barbecue in Orlando. How nice. “Tiger is back,” many said. Back as a Tour winner, sure, where modest-speed greens merit minimal glory. But such tests, no offense to Arnie’s track, bear about as much resemblance to winning the Masters, where every nerve is tested and every shot is menaced by your own subconscious, as a pair of Mouse Ears do to a tuxedo.