Masters opinion: Tiger shows he's a true champion

The Scoop

He might not be on the leaderboard but this was a showing you could only admire

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deed.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

The story of Tiger Woods’ return to top-level golf was above all a human one.

His opening 73 may have left him nine strokes behind the young pretender, Jordan Spieth, but in its own way was an even more impressive demonstration of golf in the widest sense.

This was about bravery, courage and blind faith.

As Rudyard Kipling put it:
“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”

That was Woods yesterday, a man playing from memory and who really could have been forgiven for sitting this one out.

It made for compelling viewing, from the moment his opening tee shot was squeezed out to the right of the 1st fairway.

His golf was by turns embarrassingly bad, functional, inspired and determined.

The hooked drive at the 9th was followed by as a miserable an attempt at a fairway wood as you are ever likely to see from a professional – a slapped, fatted, toed sclaff of a shot that travelled less than half of the distance intended.

And yet the 14-time Major champion still walked away with a hardly disastrous five.

At the 7th there was a flash of the old days, with an outrageous escape from the left trees, and at the 8th he defied no less than Jack Nicklaus by taking on a high fade over trees with his 3 wood when we were assured the only shot that would work was a running hook.

Truth told, Tiger doesn’t have such a shot in his compass at the moment so he did what most club golfers have to in the circumstances and tried to make the best of what he had.
“A hook at the 9th was followed by a slapped, fatted, toed sclaff of a fairway wood that travelled less than half of the distance intended.” My own favourite shot came at the 11th, where Tiger bailed out with his second shot to such a degree that he must have required a yardage for his pitch back. There he was, hitting off the tight turf that would expose his recent chipping woes, playing towards a pin with water immediately behind it, with a score that was barely respectable.

Out came the wedge. The swing was purposeful, the flight low and fizzing and the ball pitched level with the pin before drawing to a rapid halt on the second bounce. A wonderful shot at any time, let alone in the circumstances.

All the while he was manfully struggling for pars, Spieth was knocking in birdies for fun.

At the 15th, one of the easiest holes on the course where others were making eagles, Tiger had to hole a three-footer, downhill, that just grabbed the left edge for his par. Truly, this was not the sort of golf from which Green Jackets follow but it was incredibly courageous.

There are plenty of golf fans who have no time for Woods any more, who find his attitude unpleasant and his conduct beyond defence.

Even they, surely, must acknowledge that this was the performance of a true champion.

Tiger will surely not win a fifth Masters this time around. But what he have seen here gives fresh hope to those of us who would like nothing more than to see him once more hold aloft one of the game’s biggest trophies and remind those who have forgotten or never knew that he is one of the greatest talents ever to play the game.

Perhaps one day soon we will look back and remember this round and point to it as the beginning of his comeback.

Meanwhile, there is a Masters to be won. And Tiger will still think that he has a chance, against all the odds.

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