Sobel: An Emotional Tiger Woods Reflects on Masters Triumphs Before Preparing for Uphill Battle at Augusta
Jamie Squire/Getty Images. Pictured: Tiger Woods
As his lengthy tenure as defending champion soon comes to a close, Tiger Woods was asked Tuesday for his recollection of last year’s Masters victory, one of the most inconceivable comeback stories in sports history.
It’s a tale he’s told over and over for the past 19 months, often cycling through his timely shots and inner feelings with all the emotion of knocking in an uphill two-footer for par. He could have been excused if this occasion was just like so many others, if a press conference in a socially distanced interview room being beamed live around the world wasn’t exactly his kind of time to let it all pour out.
He started casually enough, explaining, “Well, it was just a fight and a grind…” but by the end of his reminiscence, Woods was choked up and teary-eyed, speaking of his mother and his kids and his close-knit team which had supported him through all the tough times and, of course, his father, who 22 years earlier had embraced him in that very spot off the 18th green, just as he’d then embraced his own children.
“To come full circle like that, it stills gives me…” His voice trailed off for a second or two, but his face told us what his words couldn’t.
Last year’s triumph, his fifth at Augusta National, second on the all-time list, didn’t just mean something to him. It meant everything.
While watching Tiger show his sentimental side, it was impossible not to turn thoughts of the past into thoughts of the future. Will he ever win another Masters? Will he even contend? Is another encore coming or will the house lights soon turn bright, telling us the show’s over?
After that victory, he was a forty-something amongst the flat-bellied superstars, the world’s sixth-ranked player who despite personal scandal and multiple back surgeries and so many other setbacks, once again seemed destined for even more success.
Fast-forward to this week and Woods is now ranked 33rd. He’s played exactly eight tournaments during this admittedly bizarre year and hasn’t finished better than 37th place in the past 10 months. It’s becoming more and more difficult to tell if this is simply the ebb between the tides or a wave already crashing onto the shore.
Either way, it’s difficult to envision him digging secrets out of the Augusta National range, suddenly finding his game in time to make another run at this title, but he certainly isn’t conceding anything just yet.
“I was working on a few of the things that I was working on last year coming into the event, being able to hit a high draw,” Woods offered. “My body is feeling better than I did last year, so it was a little bit easier to hit those shots. You know, hopefully this year, I’ll be as consistent as I was last year. Last year, I was able to hit a lot of really good iron shots and I putted great.”
In his most recent start, at the Zozo Championship two weeks ago, Tiger finished in a share of 72nd place in the 77-man field. Before that, he missed the cut at the U.S. Open. In his two starts before that, he failed to finish inside the top-50.
Recent history shows that form might be the most predictive measure of Masters success, but it’s also a place where course history goes a longer way than just about anywhere else. Woods might be short on the former, but he’s long on the latter, knowing every nook and cranny of Augusta National better than anyone else in this week’s field.
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He’s no longer the favorite, that role he held for so long, with so much dominance, that we collectively used to preface tournament prognostications by asking, “Tiger or the field?” He’s also not a longshot, though, not an afterthought, not one of those old champions who simply returns every year for the free Tuesday night dinner and a couple of rounds against outsized competition.
No, he’s far from that, but none of that answers the question as to whether Woods can win, or even contend, or hell, just make the cut and show off a few impressive shots on the weekend.
We’ve rarely witnessed him as emotional in a public speaking forum as he was Tuesday, simply reminiscing about what last year’s victory meant to him. It’s easy to get the sense that if Tiger never again wins a single tournament, he’s at least gratified with the comeback and that final encore.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t trying, though. His form, his results, his performance – none of it suggests Woods will contend again this week.
But we all know he’d relish the chance to keep those house lights dark and play one more hit song on his way off the stage, giving him another chance to reminisce about the good times all over again.