Wednesday 17 January 2018

Woods' prayers answered in Amen Corner sanctuary

Peter Bills

It'S all on the golf now. The past is your last shot. Tiger Woods moved about Augusta as he always has, the centre of a narrative that takes no account of life beyond the ropes.

In this parish Woods does not permit consideration of anything other than what the ball might do when it leaves the club face. Following him is an absorbing, compelling business since he is just as likely to reach too far and find trouble as he is to split the sky in two.

This was a day for good housekeeping, keeping the error count low and progressing by stealth.

The wind was up and the pins harder to find. None was setting fire to the scoreboard as they did on Thursday.

Woods was at the senses early after walking out to his reception committee of thousands.

His opening drive drifted left on the breeze toward the hungry branches of the fairway arbour. Ordinarily fate can be relied upon to spit the ball back his way.

This day she woke in spiteful mood and tucked his ball in the copse among the pine needles to leave Woods in the needle threading business with only his second shot.

This is where one learns the difference between the golf we play and the game in which professionals are engaged. Through these eyes immediately to his rear the gap available to Woods was notional rather than material.

To him it was a matter of which space to cleave. And cleave it he did, sending the ball hissing like a rattle snake through an improbable arc to the front left of the green, two feet short of the bunker. Ridiculous.

The shot had Woods sprinting out of the trees after his ball like a kid in the playground.

That moment of instinctive enjoyment was the point at which his sins were washed away. I had bought back in to the myth of the ball bender. But then, I always was a cheap date.

I was not the only one. When he hit his chip shot dead a neighbouring devotee hit the hyperbole button: "Only Tiger could do that." Well, no, but one understood the sentiment.

Woods saw the shot in his mind, calibrated the weight of stroke required and committed to it without a thought that he might fail.

At two Woods was just off the back of the green in two. His saunter down the hill brought the weird question of the day: "What's he wearing, just so I can pick him out?"

If she needed a label to identify Woods this Augusta maiden was in the wrong place. The answer came back. "He's the one wearing black." Good spot.

Woods got his birdie and promptly gave it back at the short fourth.

A pulled iron of the tee left him with an awkward chip over the bunker. With the face opened almost flat he scooped his ball to five feet.

A stunning outcome from where he was but leaving him with a viper of a putt down and across the camber.

"That's impossible, right?" inquired another green side commentator going a little early with the eulogy. The putt turned out to be just that, staying up to shower the green in groans. Woods was again left at the fifth, where Lyle carded his hellfire eight for a quadruple bogey. Left is nowhere on this hole and required another engineered iron shot to get close, and even then he had to get up and down out of the sand for par.

With the hour approaching noon, and the wind getting up, Augusta National was noticeable free of the roars that chased around these vast acres on the opening day. The course was getting its own back forcing the players as well as the crowd into reverential silence. Woods could not have crunched better drives at eight and nine but still Augusta refused to yield.

Woods would have to wait until the last bend around Amen Corner for a sniff of another opportunity.

His drive at 13 was again straight out of coach Hank Haney's handbook, a long, high draw following the contour's of the hole hey call Azalea.

In another life Woods might have taken the water on and gone for the green in two. Today he might have to.

Patience persuaded him to lay up and pitch in for a 20-foot birdie chance.

As theatrical a pivot as Amen Corner is it is does not permit close attendance around the greens. Pity, Woods picked out the centre of the hole.

Irish Independent

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