AUGUSTA, Ga. — You can like, love, dislike, or even loathe Tiger Woods.
But as a pure golfer, he deserves your respect.
Woods, the person, has always been complicated. He has at times displayed arrogance and a reserve that has portrayed him as aloof, unapproachable, and difficult to embrace. Of course, in his private life, there was the celibacy scandal that turned off so many people.
But Woods the golfer has been many things since he introduced himself to the world 25 years ago this week with his record-breaking, sport-changing 1997 Masters win — the first of five Green Jackets he’s won — and every one of those things were admirable.
Woods’ god-given talent is, of course, otherworldly. You know the record-breaking 82 wins on the PGA Tour and 15 major championship wins, trailing only Jack Nicklaus’ 18. It’s all in the record books.
You’ll also know of all of the numerous back and knee surgeries that Woods has come back from in his career, and most recently his remarkable return to competitive golf following the horrific car accident he was involved in outside of Los Angeles less than 14 months ago his right leg was so badly mutilated, Woods said, that doctors were considering amputation. All of this is well documented.
What’s not in record books or hospital logs is Woods’ inner strength, his mental toughness.
I never thought there was even the remotest possibility that Woods would play at this Masters — especially since the walk on Augusta National’s undulating, emerald green turf is so difficult.
I’ve always believed that Wood’s best first chance to play competitive golf again would be the British Open at St Andrews, where the terrain is as flat as a basketball court and where he has won twice.
Yet here he is this week, defying the odds.
After his Eye-opening 1-under 71 in the first roundWoods spent the first five holes of Friday’s second round playing his way off the cutline with four bogeys.
He had gone from 1-under and a legitimate competitor to 3-over with four bogeys on his first five holes.
It didn’t look good. Then we saw what might be Woods’ greatest trait on the golf course: his unwavering willingness to grind.
Surprised by the poor start, Woods showed an iron jaw and recovered to 1-over, not only making the cut but giving himself at least a puncher’s chance to chase it Leader Scottie Schefflerwhich he lags behind by nine shots over the next 36 holes.
“Hey, I made the cut,” Woods said. “I have a chance to go into the weekend. Hopefully I’ll have one of those aha moments and turn it on and get it done over the weekend. You’ve seen guys do it with a chance of going into the back nine. If you get into the back nine within five or six, anything can happen. I have to take myself there. That’s the key. I have to take myself there.
“[Saturday] will be a big day. I have to get out there and do my business and get in the red and give myself a chance to go into the back nine on Sunday.
For all of his incredible physical gifts, Woods’ wit has always been his most underrated and underrated weapon on the golf course. He never gives up. That’s why I’ve always believed that his biggest, most impressive, and most unbreakable record is the streak of 142 consecutive cuts he made from 1998-2003.
This type of grinding defines Woods better than anything else. And that kind of loops could be seen in Augusta on Friday.
Woods staggered, even fell, but he always got up and refused to let the dream die.
“I felt good fighting back,” Woods said. “I could have thrown myself out of the tournament easily, but I stuck with it. I got myself back into the ball game. It was a good fight.”
Woods hasn’t lost many fights on golf courses.
“He’s the best competitor I’ve ever seen,” said US Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson.
To further put Woods’ remarkable week in perspective, consider the big names who will not play this weekend as Woods continues his relentless search for another jacket: Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth have all missed the cut.
“I’m amazed that he was able to come back and play at the Masters, but if I ever knew anyone who I would say could do it, it would be him,” said Stewart Cink.
“I could give you 25 awards that he has and there are more,” Will Zlatoris said. “Of course he has won here five times. It has 15 majors. He has won 82 times. He’s the greatest of all time. One could argue that this is probably his finest achievement.”
I don’t think there are any arguments there.