That day, Palmer asked if the young Woods would like to put some stakes on the game.
“Well, I don’t have any cash,” said Woods, still an amateur.
“Don’t worry about it,” Palmer said. “Just play hard.”
That day, Woods yapped away on every hole. “What do you do here? What do you do here?”
“I’m sure they got sick and tired of me,” he said.
As a storyline, the evidence — television ratings, attendance, Q-rating — suggests the golf-watching public simply doesn’t tire of Woods, love him or loathe him. They didn’t when he wore a Stanford cap and stayed in the Crow’s Nest, the room atop the clubhouse that serves as home to any amateur entrants. And they don’t now that he’s 36, now that he will open his 18th Masters on Thursday. The circumstances have changed, because he is now the one dispensing tips, the legend to be tagged along with. His intentions, clearly, have not.
“I’m here for the green jacket,” he said Tuesday.
That seems a reasonable assessment. More so than in 2009, when he played here in his first major championship since missing more than half a year after reconstructive surgery on his left knee and leg.
More so than in 2010, when this served as his first tournament following a self-imposed layoff following a sex scandal. More so even than last year, when Phil Mickelson was the defending champion, and Woods lagged behind, still in the midst of rebuilding his swing, winless since November 2009.
But on the first weekend of March, Woods shot the best final-round score he’s ever had, a 62 that put pressure on leader Rory McIlroy to close the Honda Classic.
He was, there, “starting to hit shots where he would hold it against the wind or drive it with a little bit more shape on it,” said Lee Westwood, a playing partner that weekend, “where you need to have total control.”
Woods then answered any further questions — about his health, the state of his game, his mental fitness — by crushing the field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his most recent appearance. That win, his 72nd on the PGA Tour, resonates here.
“I think it’s a huge win for him to be successful this week,” Mickelson said. “I think it really increases the opportunity, because it gives him a lot of confidence and it makes being in that situation after having already closed the deal a lot easier to do.”
And then, Mickelson offered the remark that shows Woods might really be back. “Sucks for us,” he said, chuckling.