AUGUSTA, Ga. — For years, other golfers have bemoaned the fact that there was no way to play defense against Tiger Woods. They obviously never considered sounding a shrill thunderstorm alarm or having a security guard clip him with a rolling block. Just as well, because those don’t work.
Woods’ momentum was temporarily slowed when the horn went off as he played the 12th hole and his stride was broken when a guard slid in the mud and slammed into Woods’ foot. But nothing stopped the 14-time major champion from dominating the scene at the Masters Friday.
In a round when it was again raining birdies at Augusta National, Woods was his own electrical storm. He shot 4-under par 68 and finished at 6 under, one shot out of a five-way, star-studded tie for first.
He was surrounded by roaring fans on every step toward the clubhouse from the 18th green, and he was beaming. “I feel like I played my own way back into the tournament. This is now three straight majors that I’ve been in the mix and so it’s good stuff,” he said.
Elite players will have their say, what with reigning U.S. Open and PGA Champion Brooks Koepka and British Open champion Francesco Molinari in the lead group at 7 under, along with fellow major champions Jason Day, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen.
Woods is tied with Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Justin Harding.
But only one man generated intense energy, and that was the one who asserted that he is uninjured after the bizarre episode on the rain slickened 14th hole. “I’m good,” he said.
Woods hit his tee shot into the left trees, then made a dramatic recovery shot onto the green. As he walked back toward the fairway, spectators rushed to get closer and the security detail moved to hold them at bay. One guard slipped on the mud and slid directly into the right ankle of Woods, causing him to stumble.
“It’s all good. Accidents happen. I’ve had galleries run over me. It’s just, you know, when you play in front of a lot of people, things happen,” he said later. “You move on.”
He did just that, sinking the birdie putt on the 14th and making birdie on the par-5 15th as well. Earlier, he had earlier endured a blip on Amen Corner, the most populated section of the course. Woods — having noticeably taken to chewing gum all through the round — was the only one of the top nine to birdie the difficult par-4 11th hole, evoking a massive cheer. The crowd let loose again when he hit his tee shot on the par-3 12th within five feet.
Then, the horn sounded for dangerous weather, beginning a 29-minute delay. When play resumed, he missed the birdie putt. His short putting was not his strong suit Friday. “I’m not too bummed about it because I hit them on my lines,” he said.
Ultimately, that did not hinder his game or dampen his spirits. Butch Harmon, his former coach, said on the Sky Sports feed, “Have you ever seen Tiger Woods leave a green with such a smile on his face?”
Many golfers had reason to smile Friday. Schauffele’s 65 was the best round of the day. Oosthuizen shot 66. Scott was the only one to reach 8 under before dropping a shot. Koepka recovered from a rocky start to shoot 71. Molinari didn’t make a bogey in his 67. The latter two know they held off Woods to win majors in 2018.
Then there was Day, who on Thursday had seemed the least likely to share the lead. At one point during the first round, he had to stop and lay down to loosen his chronically bad back. He aggravated his condition that morning when he bent down on the practice green to kiss his 3-year-old daughter Lucy.
Day admitted that he had been moping about his fate early Friday but snapped out of it when his wife Ellie told him, “It’s the Masters. Suck it up.”