Nobody mentioned the elephant in the room at Augusta National yesterday.
Not once did Tiger Woods have to field a direct question about the ‘chip yips’ that supposedly hounded him into exile last January.
Naturally, he was asked about how much time he spent in the process of rebuilding his game and confidence. “I worked my ass off,” said Woods, smiling. “That’s the easiest kind of way to describe it.
“People would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again,” he added.
“But it was sun-up to sundown, and whenever I had free time; if the kids were asleep, I’d still be doing it, and then when they were in school, I’d still be doing it. So it was a lot of work.”
Explaining he’d become caught “between two swing patterns” after switching from one technique with former coach Sean Foley to another with new consultant Chris Como, Woods insisted he’d not lost hope during the darkest days of last winter.
“It was more frustration than anything else,” he added. “Because I knew what I could do, and just wasn’t able to do it at the time.
“It would come in flashes. I would get in these modes where it would come for ten minutes and I would just have it, just dialled in; and then I’d lose it for an hour; and then I’d get it back. And next thing you know, I’d flip to having it for an hour to ten minutes of losing it, and then it got to a point where it was just there.
“There were times when there were a few clubs that flew, suddenly slipped out of my hand and travelled some pretty good distances, too,” he conceded. “There were some frustrating moments, but I had to stick with it.”
Tiger missed last year’s Masters after back surgery. He appears to have returned to Augusta a markedly different animal after his recent hiatus, throwing his arms around people on the practice range on Monday, clinging onto friends with the fervour of a man who’s just been found after 60 days in the wilderness.
Just as impressive has been the warm way in which Woods embraced the vast crowds during the 20 holes he’s played on the golf course so far this week, flashing broad smiles at all and sundry and knuckle-bumping kids.
There even was a shot of Tiger in between pitching balls on the practice area bopping absent-mindedly to the hip hop beat on his earphones.
“There’s no other tournament in the world like this and to come back to a place that I’ve had so many great memories at and so many great times in my life, it’s always special,” said Woods, a four-time winner at the Masters.
“And then this week, to play with Mo (O’Meara), haven’t seen him in a while, go back and relive some old times, brings back some great times.”
Yet there appeared to be a little more to it than that as Woods hugged Darren Clarke, presumably for the first time since the Ulsterman had been appointed Ryder Cup captain.
And then when he twice locked Mark O’Meara in a patently emotional embrace when their paths crossed for the first time in at least two years.
His chipping, which had been chronic as he shot 82, his worst round as a pro, in his most recent complete tournament round on Friday at the Phoenix Open, looks sharp after the “sun-up to sun-down” toil he’s invested in rehabilitating his game in the past two months.
Often as he worked, Tiger’s two little kids would be gambolling around playfully on the range nearby.
Might it be that in this time of quiet contemplation, far from the madding lifestyle on tour, Woods had a rare opportunity to take stock of his life, his career and that, at 39, he still has a precious chance to introduce his children to the majestic Tiger of yore?
“He’d certainly love for them to see him be Tiger he once was,” says Notah Begay, who has known Woods since boyhood, played with him at College and then on Tour.
Begay, in constant contact with Tiger during his lonely exile of recent months, clearly has his finger on the pulse. For a start, the prospect of having his kids caddie for him has persuaded Tiger to play the famous Masters Par 3 competition for the first time since 2004.
“I have two caddies, actually,” Woods explained. “My two little ones are going to be out there with me. It’s special.
“As I said, this tournament means so much to me in so many different ways. We all know what happened in ’97 with my dad’s health. He was pronounced dead at one point earlier that year; came back, and then came here and I won the Masters.
“To now have come full circle and to have a chance to have my kids out there and be able to share that with them, it’s special. Charlie has seen me win a golf tournament before,” he added.
“Sam, actually she was there at the US Open in 2008, but doesn’t remember it.
“It’s nice to be able to share these things with my family and it just means the world to me. They are excited, I’m excited and can’t wait to go out there.”
This smiling Tiger may be dangerous at Augusta National as he plays his 20th Masters in his 10th year since he last won the Green Jacket.
Mr Nice Guy may be feeling a little older and wiser but hasn’t lowered his sights. For a start, Woods didn’t seem remotely aware that his mood had been visibly better in recent days.
“I’m just enjoying just competing again. Whether I have blinkers on or not, I don’t feel any different. I’m just preparing to try and win the Masters.
“I am older, there’s no doubt about that,” he admitted. “Try chasing around six- and seven-year-olds all day, you start feeling it. But the good news is my soccer game has gotten a lot better.
“No, I still feel the same way. I want to win,” he went on. “The whole idea is to prepare and do that, and I feel like my game is finally ready to go and do that again.
“As I said, I was caught right between two release patterns, and I had to get rid of that and make sure I had one release pattern in me. It took a while. It took a lot of hard work that went into it. I finally got to the point where I feel I can do it.”
Round One & round two
(Irish times, US unless stated)
12.45pm (tomorrow) & 15.52 (Friday) C Hoffman, B Harman
12.56 & 16.03 L Mize, B Meth (Aus), D Willett (Eng)
13.07 & 16.14 T Watson, C Villegas (Col), G Woodland
13.18 & 16.25 M Weir (Can), B Crane, C Conners (Can)
13.29 & 16.36 V Singh (Fij), D Clarke (NI), Russell Henley
13.40 & 16.47 J-M Olazabal (Spa), B Todd, K Na.
13.51 & 17.09 J Blixt (Swe), K Streelman, S Gallacher (Sco)
14.02 & 17.20 P Reed, K Bradley, I Poulter (Eng)
14.13 & 17.31 M A Jimenez (Spa), A Lahiri (Ind), L Westwood (Eng)
14.24 & 1742 B Watson, J Rose (Eng), G Yang (Kor)
14.35 & 17.53 A Scott (Aus), D Johnson, A Murdaca (Aus)
14.57 & 18.04 M Hoffmann, S Stricker, M Every
15.08 & 18.15 B Crenshaw, B Haas, J Dufner
15.19 & 18.26 W Simpson, H Matsuyama (Jpn), P Casey (Eng)
15.30 & 18.37 C Schwartzel (Rsa), J Luiten (Ned), S-m Bae (Kor)
15.41 & 18.48 P Mickelson, R McIlroy (NI), R Moore
15.52 & 18.59 JB Holmes, M Kaymer (Ger), B Snedeker
16.03 & 12.45 I Woosnam (Wal), E Compton, M Leishman (Aus)
16.14 & 12.56 T Immelman (Rsa), K Stadler, S Harvey
16.25 & 13.07 B Martin, R Streb, C Tringale
16.36 & 13.18 S Lyle (Sco), S-y Noh (Kor), B Neil (Sco)
16.47 & 13.29 B Langer (Ger), B Wiesberger (Aut), G Ogilvy (Aus)
17.09 & 13.40 Z Johnson, J Furyk, E Els (Rsa)
17.20 & 13.51 A Cabrera (Arg), L Oosthuizen (Rsa), M Dominguez (Chi)
17.31 & 14.02 C Kirk, M O'Meara, S Lowry (Irl)
17.42 & 14.13 P Harrington (Irl), R Palmer, T Bjorn (Den)
17.53 & 14.24 J Hahn, M Ilonen (Fin), H Mahan
18.04 & 14.35 M Kuchar, B Koepka, G McDowell (NI)
18.15 & 14.57 H Stenson (Swe), J Spieth, B Horschel
18.26 & 15.08 F Couples, B Grace (Rsa), T Jaidee (Tha)
18.37 & 15.19 V Dubuisson (Fra), L Donald (Eng), J Senden (Aus)
18.48 & 15.30 J Donaldson (Wal), T Woods, J Walker
18.59 & 15.41 J Day (Aus), S Garcia (Spa), R Fowler