AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Up was down and east was west at the most mixed-up opening day in Masters history Thursday. A 60-year-old man was leading the tournament at one point (Tom Watson). A Champions Tour grayhair wore skateboard shoes (Fred Couples). And a man buried in the most unshaven sex scandal in sports history was greeted like a returning astronaut (Tiger Woods.)
For Woods, it must've felt like walking out of five months in the Sahara into an ice-cold beer bath. Nearly everything that could go his way did.
The National set the course up friendlier than a drunk puppy, a storm cell bypassed Augusta and Woods made two eagles, shot his lowest first round ever here (68) and didn't get one heckle. Not one.
Well, unless you count getting heckled from the sky.
Twice, an airplane circled the course streaming banners for the world to see. The first one said, "Tiger Did You Mean Bootyism?" The second said, "Sex Addict? Yeah, Sure, Me Too!"
I didn't even realize Elin had her pilot's license.
You don't get those kinds of planes at Augusta. It's mostly private jets that stay well away from the golf course. So, on the seventh green, Tiger finally looked up at it, started to read it, realized it was about him, and turned away. He couldn't have not "heard" it, though, given that nearly every other person ringing the green was pronouncing it out the way people do: "Yeah Sure Me Too." But afterward, Woods said, "No, didn't see it."
OK, so maybe the 144-day layoff has been bad for his memory, but his hearing sure has improved. The crowds cheered him everywhere he went, and anybody who braved a "Go get 'em, Tiger!" got a look, a smile and even a "thank you" from the once-great-then-forever-shamed-now-apparently-great-again man. That's not the Tiger we've seen before. He used to just march straight ahead, icy and menacing and single-purposed. There were times you weren't even sure he had ears.
"The people, I haven't heard them cheer this loud in all my years here," Tiger told ESPN's Mike Tirico in the Butler Cabin afterward. That's a wild exaggeration. I've heard them roar twice as loud for him here. Then again, when you've been living in an exceedingly quiet house for four months, everything MUST seem twice as loud.
Golf fans are the three-dollar trollops of sports fans. They stand on their chosen hole and root for every putt to go in, every chip to dive in the jar, every tee shot to be an ace. If Saddam Hussein himself were playing, they'd root for him to make a bomb. But Augusta fans are even easier. The beauty of the place, the flowers, the majesty of the joint puts them all in a just-been-paid mood. I saw fathers with their teenage daughters hollering, "We love you, Tiger!"
Then again, for the fans, it was hard to separate the man's deeds from the man's game. He hit it so spectacularly that with any kind of decent putter going at all, he could've been the leader. And the closer he got to the top of the leaderboard, the less they cared about scruples.
There were only a few cranks in the crowd, and they were discreet. Between the first green and the second tee, for instance, someone "accidentally" spilled a big pile of red ball markers that read: "Tiger, Text Me!"
It would be a very nice item on eBay.
Outside the entrance to Magnolia Lane, a man stood with a sandwich board outside a jewelry store. The sign said: "Pulled a Tiger? Let Us Smooth It Over For You!"
That 68 is preposterous and historic and unthinkable when you put yourself in his shoes for one minute. Imagine the emotional bloodshed he has gone through, albeit self-inflicted.
But inside the gates of the No. 1-rated golf course in the world, Tiger felt "comfortable." And why wouldn't he? After four months of a heinous scandal fueled by voice mails he left and text messages he sent, he must've relished coming to a place where the first sign you read when you come through the gate is: NO CELL PHONES.
That 68 is preposterous and historic and unthinkable when you put yourself in his shoes for one minute. Imagine the emotional bloodshed he has gone through, albeit self-inflicted. He not only hadn't played a tournament the entire year, nor faced the public after five shameful months, but he was trying out a whole new serenity-now personality on the course.
There were times when you could tell he wanted to bite a hole in his lower lip. On the sixth, he missed a makeable birdie putt, took his putter behind his neck and looked as if he was about to punish it harshly for misbehavior -- Old Tiger Style -- when he stopped himself. On 14, he hooked his second shot and, just for an instant, looked as if he might bury the thing deep enough to plant tulip bulbs, but checked himself and just gently dropped it behind him instead. On 18, he missed nearly a kick-in for birdie, screamed silently and came into the press building anyway.
Good for him. In fact, maybe that should be his new slogan for life, not merely for golf.
Just Don't Do It.
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