If Woods makes that adjustment, as he has many times and in many places, the rest of his game began clicking by the fifth hole after a loose start that forced him to get up-and-down from beside the greens at Nos. 2, 3 and 4.
Woods knows the nature of his problem. It has nothing to do with complex swing technique. It has little to do with karmic balance or the presence of his girlfriend Lindsey Vonn, the legendary skier, who walked up part of the first hole, her leg in a brace from her skiing accident in February. It’s the same old problem that he talked about here just two days ago.
“I was ‘there’ ball-striking-wise a few years through that stretch [’06-’12]. I hit a lot of greens but just didn’t make enough putts. I was there on Sunday and just didn’t get it done,” Woods said. “As we all know, you have to putt well here. You have to make a lot of putts.
“The person that theoretically didn’t really put well was Vijay Singh; when he won, he hit more greens than anybody ever hit to do it,” Woods added. “Generally, you have to make your putts — the majority of the putts inside 10 feet. And you’ve got to be just a great lag putter for the week.”
The world of golf, with few exceptions, hopes Woods recovers his touch here. As Paul Azinger said recently, “Tiger may be the greatest putter ever.”
More than any sport, golf has never prospered without at least one dynamic dominant superstar. Parity is a rarity to be despised. When the game lacks at least one vivid protagonist, even if he is a flawed one, it practically gasps for air outside of its core of devoted fans.
At the moment, Rory McIlroy (72) may be a bit too young and Phil Mickelson (72) a bit too old for the job. So, the central fascination here becomes Woods, whose gallery was far larger than either Rory’s or Phil’s.
The throngs around Woods were not typical of the Masters, calling out cheerfully, “Go, Arnie (Jack/Tom/Shark/Tiger).” They were supportive, but as serious and businesslike as Woods himself who was so fiercely contained that he never showed joy or irritation during his whole round.
Woods is almost back to golf’s mountaintop, but not quite. The last climb, winning another major championship, is like the Hillary Step near Everest’s peak, a special treachery saved for last.
That slippery spot, for Woods, will be on the short grass. Watch him putt from four to 12 feet. Those are the ones that usually decide the Masters. Just as important, Woods firmly believes that they do. If those putts start to drop, Tiger’s final climb back to the summit of his sport will be underway.
For more from Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.