Woods will figure out these Augusta National greens over the next three days, something he has consistently failed to do over the previous seven Masters, or his quest to complete one of golf’s most riveting comeback stories — from 58th in the world to major champion again — will fizzle.
Why Woods and the Masters greens, which seemed a perfect match in ’97, ’01, ’02 and ’05, have been on the outs for so long is a mystery. But after Thursday, they remain so.
Once more, Woods floundered with the flat stick here on Thursday, not making a putt longer than six feet and using his putter 34 times, including putts from the fringe.
At the 14th and 15th holes, when he was near the top of the leader board at 3 under par, he faced a pair of seven-foot putts, the kind of Masters-length testers that so often define the next green jacket winner.
Woods misread or mishit both, missing low left by two inches each time. His first-round 70, on what he called “a benign day” for scoring, left him in a tenable but worrisome 10-way tie for 13th place.
Tiger is right that he shot a “good solid round” and that he’s “right in it.” Three of his four wins here have come after opening 70’s. But the tale of Tiger and the Masters has, for many years, not been about injuries or swing changes, personal drama or new caddies and coaches.
It’s been about his dad-gum putting after he drives up Magnolia Lane. By his own admission here this week, he would have won a couple of more Masters “absolutely” except that he “just didn’t make enough putts.”
In recent years, Woods has had many problems of many kinds, except at the Masters. Here, he has the same problem, his stormy romance with the greens that once adored him. Year after year, no matter the state of his game, he has a chance to win. And putting has usually decided if he would. The results, please: a third, second, second, sixth, fourth and fourth.
As Woods’s good friend Steve Stricker said, “Everything about this course is suited for his game. So, yes, it’s surprising [he hasn’t won since ’05].”
Ironically, Stricker is one of the world’s best putters and the man who ignited Woods’s recent spring hot streak with a tip in Orlando that helped send Woods to his best putting week ever — 100 putts in 72 holes.
For generations, golfers have found that what works on the PGA Tour does not necessarily translate to the Masters greens. After this round, Tiger grumbled that the speed of the greens wasn’t right. They looked fast. They putted slowly.