Saturday 17 March 2018

Woods causes stir on ‘first day back at school’

Karl MacGinty

IT was 80 degrees in the shade but you could almost hear the ice breaking at Augusta National early yesterday as Tiger Woods materialised among the Masters early-birds on the magnificent new practice facility here.

“I was just hitting a few balls and suddenly he was behind me,” said Paul Casey, who was intent on giving his left shoulder a good workout yesterday after a slight strain scuppered his defence of the Shell Houston Open title.

Casey paused in his work to have a quick word with Woods. The Englishman kept the content of their short conversation private as he headed for a practice round with Rory McIlroy.

Woods wore dark glasses in the gleaming sunshine and there was that awkward ‘first day back at school’ feel about the occasion as the disgraced world No 1 pulled on his glove. Yet after hitting some 30 balls down the range, one could almost sense Woods easing back into swing of things as he walked casually over to the short-game area with coach Hank Haney.

A few minutes later, he walked through the clubhouse to the putting green and, after Williams initially moved off towards the first tee, Woods spied his old friend and mentor, Mark O’Meara, coming up the ninth.

O’Meara said last week he’d not had the opportunity to speak with Tiger since last November’s illfated crash at Isleworth. Yet there was obvious warmth in the embrace they shared on the 10th tee. Tiger, who has played several practice rounds at Augusta in recent weeks, narrowly failed to draw his first tee shot into the fairway but found the middle with the second.

On the other side of the course, Casey’s left shoulder showed no ill-effects, while McIlroy, despite missing the cut in Houston, is “striking the ball better now than he has all year”, according to his coach Michael Bannon.

Padraig Harrington’s remarkable penchant for hitting his ball into hazards at Redstone scuppered his prospects of launching a final day bid at the Houston Open, which went to a play-off last night between Anthony Kim and Vaughn Taylor.

Harrington stumbled to three sixes in his first six holes yesterday, bringing his total of penalty strokes for the week to eight, one shy of his tally at Redstone last year.

A final round 77 sent the Dubliner tumbling from eighth place overnight into a tie for 40th, though his prospects of adding to his haul of three Major titles at Augusta are unlikely to be affected by his wanderlust at the weekend. Angel Cabrera missed last year’s cut in Houston and went on to win the Green Jacket. Harrington’s woes started with a double-bogey six on the third after pulling his approach into water. He then incurred his third penalty of the week at the par five fourth.

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