I walked Augusta National on the Tiger trail Thursday, as did Steve Spurrier, Eric Dickerson, Tiger’s mom, Kutilda, and droves of other patrons waiting to see the show.
And make no mistake, Tiger Woods is the show.
We witnessed a good round of golf — not great, not spectacular and not breathtaking — just good. It was simply Tiger in his element, where his game was once every superlative on golf’s planet.
He finished with a one-under par ho-hum 71, ending Thursday in a tie for 24th place.
For me, and I’d suspect for many others following the man on the cover of The Masters’ video game, I just don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to miss it if, or when, everything clicks once again. His game didn’t click Thursday, but it didn’t combust either.
In the meantime, I’ll watch Tiger eat a peanut butter sandwich. Others will too.
“Did you see that?” a giggling teenager said to her boyfriend Thursday after ‘she thought’ Tiger looked at her when she waved. “We made eye contact!” Walking up the seventh fairway, she was beaming.
I doubt a blank stare by Charl Schwartzel made a patron’s heart pound out of their chest Thursday.
To the golf purist, there are probably better stories, and there are definitely better golfers.
Playing two groups before Tigermania, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Georgia Tech graduate Matt Kuchar teed off to a smattering of applause. When they reached the first green, any spectator could find the rope, and the crowd never stood deeper than three or four. Kaymer, Westwood and Kuchar represent the numbers one, two and 10 players in the world, respectively.
Twenty minutes later, it felt the running of the bulls. Well, the “walking briskly” of the bulls — no running at Augusta National. Tiger had arrived, and so had the masses. Fifteen to 20 patrons lined the ropes.
Tiger, on the course, was subtly different than a year ago. Gone were dark sunglasses he wore while walking each fairway, and the presence of his security personnel appeared drastically reduced. He was comfortable, relatively even-keeled and focused. If he would have putted more consistently — he missed at least four putts from inside 10 feet — he would be lurking behind Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros on the front page of the Augusta leaderboard.
“Not putting well certainly has cost me a few Masters,” Woods said Tuesday. “The years that I’ve won here, I’ve putted well the entire week.”
Tiger better hope that trend doesn’t continue.
As it stands now, Tiger’s nowhere. He’s not in contention, but he’s not out of it either. He’s stuck in golf’s purgatory, a place he’s been mired for most of the past 17 months.
On Friday, though, Tiger will have another chance to ascend. Will he or won’t he, I don’t know. For the size of his galleries, I’m not sure it matters.
The masses will have their eyes glued to him.
I will too — just in case.
Follow Vince’s coverage of The Masters LIVE all week on Twitter at www.twitter.com/vincejohnson.