Dream scenario of Tiger Woods contending at the Masters quickly fades

It was nice while it lasted, this idea that a reborn Tiger Woods could climb off his back and steal a green jacket.

On the first hole of the second day of his revival Masters, reality teed off.


After hitting a perfect first drive, Woods was serenaded by cheers with every step down the middle of the fairway, a 300-yard standing ovation. He was beginning the Friday afternoon round just four strokes off the stumbling leaders. He was coming off a powerful finish the previous day. The Tiger Charge was on.

Then he chunked it.

He botched his second shot, failing to hit the green. He missed his chip, barely landing it on the bent grass. He putted in for a bogey, and there was silence.

Seriously, it's the opposite of a Tiger Roar, and it happens when Woods fails at greatness, his fans at Augusta National reacting with almost complete silence, as if their surprise has rendered them speechless. They turn their backs, shake their heads and walk away. They were doing that a lot on an afternoon that revealed a truth that everyone should have known but few probably wanted to believe.

Tiger Woods won't win this Masters. He can't win this Masters. Not now. Not close. He's not sharp enough. He's not strong enough. He's not back enough. It's too soon. It's pretty simple.

"I didn't hit the ball very good,'' he said.

In shooting his ninth consecutive over-par round in a major, Woods shot a three-over 75, leaving him four over for the tournament and tied for 40th place, 13 strokes behind leader Patrick Reed.

It was every bit as bad as it sounded. His ball took a dip in the creek. His ball was lost in the woods. His ball was everywhere but in the hole on short putts that he never used to miss.

"I know what I need to do, I'm just not doing it,'' he said.

A month after this grandiose dream of Woods' instant championship resurgence began, it's time for it to stop. End the talk that this tournament would feature the greatest comeback in sports history. Push pause on the idea that Woods is ready to dominate the tour again. Stop believing that this "miracle" can only end with Woods winning a major again.

I've been guilty of pushing those narratives. No more. Woods warned that everyone was going overboard in pronouncing him great so soon after last year's fourth back surgery. Woods was right. It's time to chill.

In fact, after this column, I promise I won't write about Woods the rest of the tournament. Well, maybe. We'll see.

"Putting it in perspective, six months ago I didn't know if I'd be playing golf,'' Woods reminded everyone early Friday evening. "Forget playing at the Tour level, I didn't know if I would ever be playing again. But it's incredible to have the opportunity again, to still come out here and play this golf course.''

Woods said, to be honest, he was thrilled he made the cut, but even that was a close call, as he finished two strokes from going home early.


"Now I know I'm on the weekend,'' he said. "Even though I'm a lot behind, if I play a special weekend, shoot two rounds in the mid-60s, you never know.''

A title comeback would certainly be historic since no Masters winner has come from further behind than eight strokes after 36 holes. After what Woods showed Friday, such a comeback would also be, well, impossible.

From that first hole, he never looked right. He was constantly stretching his back. He occasionally seemed to wince with a swing. He took long pauses before many shots, as if waiting for a change in the wind, but sometimes there was no wind.

At times, he seemed tired. At other times, he just seemed lost, once even literally.

On No. 5, he sent his second shot into the woods. It was so buried, three people walked over to help him find it. Even playing partner Marc Leishman joined in.

When Woods finally found the ball trapped beneath branches and pine straw, he was so far in the woods you couldn't see him. He was handed a club from the fairway. He took a drop, chipped it into a bunkernd wound up taking a double-bogey six.

"I hit a crap shot,'' he said.

He said he wasn't fatigued from playing the deceptively hilly course in his first Masters in three years, but it didn't seem like it.

"I've kept my legs strong, I've kept my legs fit, I was good there in that regard," he said.

He birdied both par-fives on the back nine. He says he was putting well, which was strange considering he rarely finished a hole with a flourish, including missing makable putts on No. 16 and No. 17 that provided an appropriately disappointing ending to his round.

"I'm hitting so many beautiful putts, right around the hole,'' he said.

His brightness in front of the clubhouse after the round belied his frustration while he was on the course.

At another point, he actually heckled himself. After watching his tee shot at No. 12 roll down an embankment into Rae's Creek for second consecutive day, he ducked his head, raised his club, and bit off words that hung in the afternoon air.

"Bleepin' idiot!'' he said.

He was, of course, being too hard on himself. He's not an idiot. He's just a 42-year-old guy with a surgically repaired back who is trying to rebuild his game while playing one of the most difficult courses in the world in one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world.

This doesn't mean he won't be a champion again. This only means he won't be one Sunday. The dream isn't happening, but it was nice while it lasted.

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