AUGUSTA, Ga. – It was 7:13 on Friday evening, and the rain had stopped and the wind subsided after a weather front had moved across Augusta National Golf Club earlier in the afternoon.
In a white mock turtleneck, navy cap and trousers, Tiger Woods stood with an iron in his hand for the par-4 18th hole, nicknamed “Holly,” where Woods had won four of his 14 major championships.
The previous 17 holes had been a rollercoaster of emotions, with Woods making 20- and 30-footers and missing some short putts on which he had built his reputation.
In playing the four par 5s in even par and going 4 under on the par 3s and 4s, Woods shot 4-under 68. It was a contrarian’s blueprint in playing Augusta National successfully, but it appears to be working. Woods stood at 6-under 138, in a tie for sixth place and one stroke off the lead (scores) entering today’s third round (tee times).
As the ball launched into the air at 18, the patrons watched in anticipation as it came to rest 14 feet from the hole. Facing a birdie putt that would have given him a share of the lead, Woods left his ball just off the right edge of the hole. Still, it was the best score for Woods at Augusta National since he shot 68 in the third round of the 2015 Masters en route to an eventual T-17.
More importantly, Woods put himself in position to win his first major championship since 2008 and his fifth green jacket but first since 2005.
“I feel like I played my own way back into the tournament,” Woods said after a six-birdie performance. “I was just very patient today, felt very good to be out there doing what I was doing. This is now three straight majors that I've been in the mix, and so it's good stuff.”
Let’s talk about those other two majors. In the 2018 British Open at Carnoustie, Woods held the lead halfway through the final round before a mental mistake derailed his chance to break his losing streak in majors.
At the PGA Championship at Bellerive, Woods played to within sniffing distance of Brooks Koepka, but the two-time U.S. Open champion was not concerned with Woods or anyone else that Sunday and took control in winning his third major title.
Now, Woods is near the top of the leaderboard again.
Unfamiliar ground? To the old Woods, not at all. To the new Woods, the 43-year-old with a sunny disposition, smiling all the way from the 18th green to the scoring building with his head up and acknowledging the fans, we don’t really know yet.
Woods’ signature killer instinct presumably still will be there, even though it wasn’t present in that final round last summer in Scotland.
History indicates that Woods must finish with a share of the lead on Saturday to have a chance on Sunday, because he has not come from behind in his 14 major championships. But do you throw the stats out the window because this is Tiger Woods?
The patrons who lined the 18th hole might agree that such statistics are meaningless because this, after all, is Tiger Woods, and he will find a way.
A pragmatist might acknowledge that Woods is trailing five former major champions – Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari, Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott – who own a combined seven major titles.
No matter whom you might believe, Saturday at the Masters is going to be special.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli