Masters Golf

Tiger Woods acknowledges the crowd on the 18th hole during the first round for the Masters golf tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Augusta, Ga.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The cart driver ferrying me from the press building to the course Thursday afternoon wanted to know what Tiger Woods had just done on 17.

“He made a bogey,” I said.

“Dammit!” was his reply.

Cart driver dude was not alone here at Augusta National Golf Club. Nor among the world of other golf clubs, locker rooms, living rooms and surreptitiously dialed in work computers (unfortunately unlike the NCAA’s March Madness website, Masters.com does not have a “Boss” button).

They were all out there, a sea of golf fans trying to will Woods on his way to another Masters victory. To his fifth green jacket.

There were two primary sounds here during the Masters’ first round. One was from the 18 SubAir systems, 18 underground jet engines sucking the excess moisture of Monday and Tuesday’s deluges out of the greens and blowing it out of vents in the ground near the fairways.

The other was the buzz generated by Woods.

It is true what they say that there is no roar like a Masters birdie roar. Or eagle roar, for that matter. It is also true that no golfer can generate the buzz that Woods does.

A Woods victory this week would break golf. The game’s most popular player winning the game’s most popular tournament 14 years, one divorce, a couple of stints in rehab and umpteen back surgeries after his last one here?

TILT!

There was a time Thursday when Woods was giving the people everything they wanted.

After feeling his way around the front nine in 1-under par, Woods birdied the par-5 13th and the par-4 14th to muscle his way into a tie for the lead at 3-under. On the main scoreboard between the 10th and 18th fairways, Woods’ surname supplanted that of 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed on the top line (by tradition, the previous Masters champion is listed first on the scoreboards Thursday when play begins). No doubt that made the Woods loving/Reed tolerating throngs delighted, reminding them of the heady days when Woods held all of golf in the palm of his gloved left hand.

Reed, the former University High golfing phenom and Augusta State All-American turned green jacket holder, scuffled his way to a 1-over 73 that included an erratic driving day (six missed fairways) and a brilliant eagle on the par-5 13th. Woods shot 2-under with that bogey coming on 17 when he pushed his tee shot into the trees right of the fairway, punched out short and missed the 9-footer for par.

Woods missed a lot of putts Thursday, leaving a round that could have been in the 60s stuck on the face of his legendary putter. Still, he did scramble for a nice, round-saving par on 18, chipping from the back fringe to 3 feet for one last putt that did drop, much to the relief of the horseshoe of humanity surrounding the home green.

“I felt like I played well and I did all the things I needed to do today to post a good number,” said Woods to the seven-deep press corps outside the clubhouse, a small cross-section of the army of fans that tracked his every movement Thursday. “I drove it well, hit some good iron shots, speed was good on the greens.”

The good news for Woods: He shot exactly this same number, 70, in the first round of three of his four Masters victories.

The bad news for Woods: This particular 70 has him four strokes back of golfer/theoretical mathematician Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, who is looking very vintage Woods at the moment having won three of the past six majors he has played (Koekpa missed last year’s Masters with a wrist injury).

Still, he knows the path from this score to the Butler Cabin green jacket ceremony quite well.

“I’ve shot this number and won (three green) coats,” Woods said, “so hopefully I can do it again.”

He can do it again. It has just been a long, long time since he did. Maybe too long. It is worth noting that the only Masters champion older than Woods is now (43 years, 3 months) was Jack Nicklaus at 46 in 1986.

But if it’s worth anything, a world of cart drivers, sunburned worshippers and work-shirking fans are trying to will Woods to climb that leaderboard and hold back the hands of time.


Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​