5-time Augusta National champion recalls ‘crazy’ sequence of events last year that capped one of golf’s most stirring comebacks
It’s finally within sight.
The first men’s major championship of 2020 is only six weeks away, and with the PGA Tour appearing in Florida this week, the anticipation grows of another Masters Sunday to rival last year’s final round. That’s because Tiger Woods will be the center of attention when he returns to Augusta National as a five-time winner and the defending champion.
Even now writing five-time winner and defending champion seems so improbable, considering all that occurred with Woods in recent years. But the second Sunday in April last year was one that even Woods called “crazy,” suggesting in his pre-Masters teleconference Monday that it was a magical week.
Woods said he has been thinking about the Masters ever since he led the U.S. to victory at the Presidents Cup in Australia in December, going 3-0 as a player and serving as captain in the process.
Woods still grows excited in anticipation of a return to Augusta, Ga., but it’s clear that he treats host Augusta National and the Masters deferentially.
“I've been a part of the Masters since I was 19 years old, and it doesn't cease to amaze me when I go back to Augusta National,” Woods said. “Just the beauty and the history and the aura around it. It's just unlike anything that we have in our sport. “
I wouldn’t call Woods sentimental, but he relished his 2019 Masters victory, which ended an 11-year winless streak in the major championships and served as a springboard to his PGA Tour record-tying 82nd career victory later in the year. He spoke about the joy of watching his two children tussle over who was going to wear the green jacket on the plane ride home, and that one month later he watched the final round with his caddie, Joe LaCava.
“We were talking back and forth, and reliving every bit of it,” Woods said. “We have a certain viewpoint of how we look at it: the shots, the numbers, the situations, and people are making birdies and all the different scenarios were playing out in our heads.”
Woods spoke frankly about his chances at different points of a final round that was unusual because it featured threesomes and earlier tee times amid threatening weather in the day’s forecast.
Looking back, Woods didn’t compile a very clean card in that historic final round. He made back-to-back bogeys, on Nos. 4 and 5, and after making the turn in 1 under on his round, he dropped another shot at the 10th. It wasn’t a typical course of action from an eventual winner, who started the day two strokes behind Francesco Molinari.
“I made two bad mistakes there,” Woods said of the consecutive bogeys on the front nine. “Just reset and try and see if I can get it back to under par at the turn. I know that Fran [Molinari] was playing extremely well. There's a bunch of guys that have a chance, but if I'm within six of the lead starting the back nine on Sunday, I've got a shot at it.”
Woods said he has seen many odd things happen over the years on the back nine on Sunday at Augusta.
“So, anything is possible,” he said. “I just need to get myself into that position where I had that opportunity, and I was able to play my way back into it. A couple guys made a few mistakes there at 12, and lo and behold, I'm part of the lead.”
Molinari and Tony Finau, playing in the final group with Woods, dumped short-iron shots into Rae’s Creek on the par 3 12th, opening the door to a patient Woods.
“Watching Fran [Molinari] hit an 8-iron there, and you could see it – and I know he didn't quite hit it right, but I played it to the left,” Woods said. “Tony [Finau] hit the best shot to all of us, and he got stood up [by the wind] at the very end. It was a good shot. He hit it flush, but it stalled out at the top. If I had gone at the flag, my ball would have been the same thing, because mine, I played left, and it stalled out at its apex, ended up short left, and I had a putt.”
Woods never looked back. He made birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, posting a 2-under 70 for a 13-under 275 total and one-stroke victory.
According to goldodds.com, Woods was a 3-1 selection to win his fifth green jacket on Saturday night, just behind the favorite Molinari, who was a 7-4 choice to win his second major title.
The euphoric victory resulted in the highest-rated morning golf broadcast in 34 years, with a 7.7 rating and 21 share. On the Monday after his victory, Woods was installed as the 8-1 favorite to win his sixth green jacket this year.
Woods didn’t disclose his schedule leading into the Masters – he’s not playing this week’s Honda Classic, which is close to his Jupiter, Fla., home – nor did he discuss his physical health. In his most recent start, two weeks ago at the Genesis Invitational, he struggled on the weekend, shooting 76-77 and finishing 22 strokes behind winner Adam Scott.
Woods is a 16-1 choice to win this year’s Masters, behind favorite and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy (9-1), Brooks Koepka (12-1) and Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm, all at 14-1. Woods will enter the 84th Masters with seemingly as many questions as he did last year, which followed spinal-fusion surgery and an arrest on suspicion of DUI (to which he accepted a plea for a reduced sentence and probation). Regardless of the odds, it’s hard to discount Woods at Augusta National because of his knowledge, preparation and patience on golf’s biggest stages.
“Looking back on it, the best move I made the entire week was to not go out and play on that Tuesday, when rain had come in and the greens had slowed up,” Woods said. “They didn't quite cut them. The golf course was playing slower. I knew they would speed up by Thursday, and I just stayed on the practice green. I chipped and putted, but I hit downhill putts, because I knew the greens were going to be a little bit faster and try not to get myself acclimated to that pace because I knew it was going to change come Thursday. That was the best thing I could have done.”
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