SATURDAY APRIL 10
Tiger Woods was sinking fast, bogeying three of five holes starting with No. 6, in danger of falling out of contention Saturday at the Masters. It appeared that the adrenaline rush of Thursday and Friday had run out, and everything he’s been through since Thanksgiving had finally caught up to him. But he kept battling and scratching and clawing, and finished with birdies on four of the last six holes, leaving him closer to the lead than he was at the outset.
“I was fighting all day,” Woods said afterward, heading into Sunday’s final round just four shots behind leader Lee Westwood, only Phil Mickelson between them. “My warm-up wasn’t very good. I was struggling with the pace of the greens. It was a tough day.”
It goes to show how ridiculously how Woods has set the bar for himself. He shot 2-under par with seven birdies and five bogeys, a round that virtually any other golfer would be thrilled to have.
Saturday is called “moving day” in golf and Woods was upwardly mobile in a hurry, recording birdies on the first and third holes to quickly move into a tie for second place. At that point it seemed like the long layoff and salacious scandal hadn’t affected his prowess; we soon learned that it hadn’t affected his profanity, either.
After a poor tee shot at the sixth hole, Woods cursed himself and took the Lord’s name in vain, too, loud enough to be heard by CBS’ microphones. When he issued his mea culpa in February, Woods pledged to conduct himself more professionally, saying “I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game on the golf course.”
Announcer Jim Nance pounced on Woods’ language right away, but colleague Nick Faldo was more understanding: “It’s going to be a test,” Faldo said. “He’s under tremendous scrutiny. I’m sure he’s going to fail at times.”
CBS’ coverage opened with tape of Woods’ birdie (and subsequent fist pump) on the first hole and tape of his birdie on the third hole. After that, the cameras showed all but a couple of his shots live. But we didn’t catch a glimpse of playing partner K.J. Choi until he walked near the tee on the ninth hole, at which point CBS had been on air for nearly an hour. When Choi teed off on that hole, it was the first time we saw him swing all day.
But Woods is getting used to Choi and so should we. Saturday marked the third consecutive round they played, and they’ll be paired again Sunday after each shot a 70. Woods birdied the last hole while Choi settled for par, ensuring they’d be together again.
FRIDAY APRIL 9
ESPN covered the first two rounds of The Masters and couldn't have scripted Thursday any better, because Tiger Woods teed off at 1:52 p.m., putting him in the middle of his round when the network's coverage began at 4 p.m. Considering the circumstances of Woods' five-month layoff, he was making perhaps the most-anticipated comeback in sports history. And it showed, as Thursday's opening round was the most-viewed golf telecast in cable history.
Alas, ESPN wasn’t so lucky in Friday’s second round. Woods remained in contention, finishing at 6-under par, putting him in a tie for third place. But he teed off at 10:35 a.m., and was done before ESPN's broadcast coverage began. What a disappointment to the millions of viewers who tune in for the Tiger, the whole Tiger and nothing but the Tiger. TV viewers and ESPN executives were upset that they missed Woods' continued strong play, but they weren't the only groups experiencing angst. British bookmakers were bracing for a potential $4.5 million shellacking if Woods prevails.
CBS should get its full dose of Woods starting Saturday when live coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. - just 55 minutes after Woods tees off. He's in the next-to-last group, in perfect position to be a major factor entering Sunday's final round. Halfway through the Masters, Woods' two-round score (6-under) is his third-lowest ever; he's won the event when he was 8-under (1997, 2001) and 5-under (2002) at the midway point. "It definitely feels good to be back and be in contention," he said after Friday's round. "I usually put myself in contention most of the time, most the of the years here, and this time I'm right there."
And we'll be right there watching him this weekend. Scandal? What scandal?