AUGUSTA, Ga. — You can love Tiger Woods, love him, dislike him, or even hate him.
But, purely as a golfer, he deserves your respect.
Woods the person has always been complicated. He has at times displayed an arrogance and an aloofness that has portrayed him as unapproachable, unrelated, and difficult to embrace. Of course, in his personal life, there was the marital infidelity scandal that turned so many people off.
But Woods, the golfer, has been a lot since he showed himself to the world 25 years ago this week with his record-breaking, earth-shattering victory at the 1997 Masters – the first of five Green Jackets he has won – and each of these things have been admirable.
Woods’ God-given talent, of course, is otherworldly. You know the record 82 PGA Tour wins and 15 major championship wins, behind only Jack Nicklaus’ 18. All this is written in the book of records.
You also know about all the multiple back and knee surgeries that Woods has come back from over the course of his career, and most recently his remarkable return to competitive golf after the horrific car accident he was in away from home. from Los Angeles less than 14 months ago. left his right leg so badly mutilated that Woods said doctors were considering amputation. All of this is well documented.
What isn’t written in the hospital records or records is Woods’ inner strength, his mental toughness.
I never thought there was even a remote possibility of Woods playing in this Masters — mainly because the walk is so tough around the rolling emerald turf of Augusta National.
I’ve always believed Woods’ best first chance to play golf again would be the British Open in St. Andrews, where the ground is as flat as a basketball court and where he’s won twice.
Yet here it is this week, defying the odds.
After his eye-opening 1-under 71 in the first round, Woods spent the first five holes of the second round Friday playing on the wrong side of the cut line with four bogeys.
He had gone from 1-under and a legitimate contender 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 will to grind.
Staggered by the poor start, Woods showed an iron chin and came back to 1-over, not only making the cut, but at least giving himself a punching chance to chase leader Scottie Scheffler, whom he is trailing from nine shots, in the next 36. Holes.
“Hey, I made the cut,” Woods said. “I have a chance to go into the weekend. I hope I have one of those light bulb moments and turn it on over the weekend and do it. You’ve seen guys do it with a chance to get into the back nine. If you’re in the five or six before the back nine, anything can happen. I need to get there. This is the key. I need to get there.
“[Saturday] will be a great day. I have to go out there and run my business and get into the red and give myself a chance to get into that back nine on Sunday.
Despite all of his incredible physical gifts, Woods’ mind 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 greatest, most impressive and unbreakable record is the streak of 142 consecutive cuts he made from 1998 to 2003.
This type of grind defines Woods better than anything. And that kind of grinding was in the spotlight Friday around Augusta.
Woods wobbled, even fell, but he kept getting up, refusing to let the dream die.
“I felt good the way I fought back,” Woods said. “I could have easily kicked myself out of the tournament, but I held on. I got back into the ball game. It was a good fight.”
Woods hasn’t lost many fights on the golf course.
“He’s the best competitor I’ve ever seen,” said USA Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson.
To further put Woods’ remarkable week into perspective, consider the big names who won’t be playing this weekend as Woods continues his relentless pursuit of another jacket: Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth all missed. the cup.
“I’m amazed that he was able to come back and play in the Masters, but if there was anyone I ever knew who could do it, it would be him,” said Stewart Cink.
“I could give you 25 accolades he has and there are even more,” Will Zalatoris said. “Obviously he has won here five times. It has 15 majors. He has won 82 times. He is the greatest of all time. You could say it’s probably his best achievement.
I don’t think there’s an argument there.