Tiger Woods, 18th hole, The Masters. It didn’t matter that he was 13-over par and his chances at winning had long expired. It didn’t matter that Tiger wasn’t expected to win. It was spectacular that just over one year after an automobile accident mangled his right leg, he was playing in The Masters, at Augusta National, with a full crowd on hand When the crowd erupted after that drive on 18, it might as well have been 5 p.m., and he’s neck and neck for the green jacket.
He had just double-bogeyed 17. The hole started ugly with a shot into the wood chips, and finished after he recovered to set himself up for a reasonable putt for a single bogey, but he overshot it, and the miss was accompanied by a quick groan/gasp from the crowd. It all was quickly forgotten after that beautiful final drive. The ball landed softly as if Wood underhanded it, Rick Barry-style, up the fairway with just a couple of bounces.
The second shot was just as nice, getting the ball on the green, giving himself a chance to finish the tournament on a high note, and giving sports fans a warm feeling for a few minutes. The crowd didn’t let it all hang out after that approach shot, because they wanted Woods to feel the love as he walked up to the green for the final time this weekend.
They gave him all that they had. A standing ovation for the entire walk. The closer he got to the ball the more it grew, and just when you thought the stuffy, and starched Master’s crowd might have expended all of their energy, many hours before a winner would be crowned, a “let’s go Tiger,” chant emerged from the back and as applause would crescendo one final time.
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Then it was time for the putt. It wasn’t a simple shot, but that final birdie was in the realm of possibility, especially with the energy engulfing the course at that moment. Sure the shot would’ve only taken him to 12-over, but did Kobe Bryant’s 60 points in his final game change the result of Los Angeles Lakers’ 2015-16 season? Of course not. They were lottery bound, but it was a magical moment to see one of the greatest take viewers in a time machine one final time.
With that birdie putt, we wanted, the broadcasters wanted, Tiger wanted, everybody wanted to see it go in the cup. He lined it up, at contact it looked good, but the ball began to veer just left. I was leaning while watching the match on television and trying to move it with my eyes like a power-hitter trying to will a foul ball back to the other side of the pole. The audience were trying to order the ball into the cup like another round of scotch.
The putt didn’t make its way back to the hole, but Tiger reclaimed his place as one of the most compelling active sports figures. He took us through this week with him limping, but still putting out a warriors effort, that Jim Nantz put perfectly as Woods was lining up his 18th hole putt on Sunday.
“He made it to the finish line.”
It’s all he wanted and all we needed. He dragged himself to the end of competition, and almost gave his performance an exclamation point. Now that we’ve seen him, Jack Nicklaus’s record feels almost like a realistic goal again. It wouldn’t be a Tiger major without the good old question — can he catch Jack?
We’ll worry about that later. For now, let’s just be happy with what we had. We got to see the legend in competition, and gave us an 18th hole with the same suspense of one that could’ve decided the tournament.
Following that horrific accident, I think that’s enough for one springtime weekend.