The pressures and anxieties of the first round at the Masters have always unsettled Woods. In his last 10 Masters, he has shot a crummy 3 over par on Thursday (usually a good scoring day) while posting a spectacular 46 under par on Friday-Saturday-Sunday. That Thursday hex, more than any other one reason, explains Woods’s string of excellent, but frustrating finishes since ’02, including T3, T2, 2, T6 and T4. Once, he overcame an opening 74 to win in ’05. But Thursday remains Woods’s self-imposed handicap — only one first-round score in the 60s in all of his 18 Masters.
Woods will battle here. He always does. But his whole career has been a testament to an unparalleled gift for front running, not coming from the pack. Now, he’s chasing again, and just when he thought he’d come here with his game almost entirely intact.
“I certainly am excited. I’m driving the ball much better than I have. I’ve got some heat behind it and it’s very straight,” Woods said on Tuesday. “My iron game is improving. So everything is headed in the right direction at the right time.”
Except for one small factor: This is a major. After all his self-inflicted agonies and multiple knee-ankle injuries, after his swing changes and life changes, the only thing that matters to him is to take the last huge step back to a major throne. What stakes could be comparable?
Psychologists say if you are born speaking another language, say German, then move to a different country as a child and become fluent in that language, then decades later awaken in the night in a burning house, you will scream “Fire!” in German.
So, the battle Woods waged on this soppy wet course, where the pedestrian pathways smelled like a pig sty, is a kind of golf combat he will face over and over — but probably only in majors, the only events that feel as intense to him as a house afire in the night.
“I just fought my way around and grinded. I got about as much out of it as I could,” said Woods. “I could maybe have gotten one, maybe two shots lower.
“I hit it well warming up, then . . . ,” Woods said.
Then he stepped to the first tee of the first major championship — since he’s gotten himself back together — and found himself in the grip of the same swing he had before he ever immortalized a fire hydrant.
“I’m excited. I can take some positives out of it for tomorrow,” said Woods, fortunate that microphones and tape recorders are not polygraphs.
So, all happy and excited for the ’morrow, where are you going now? Big steak?
“As soon as I can get away from you guys, I’m going to the range,” Woods said.
And 17 seconds later, he did.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/