Woods' scrambling a spectacle all its own

April 11, 1997|By John Eisenberg

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Forty-30? Sure, that's a pretty reasonable score for halftime of a college basketball game, or, say, the end of a football game between teams with good offenses.

But as a golfer's scorecard, particularly in the first round of the Masters on a day when only seven golfers break par? Forty-30?

In the movies, maybe, with a dramatic soundtrack building to a crescendo.

Or maybe in some bizarro golf novel, stretching the limits of reality.

But for real? Come on. Is any golfer really capable of such a preposterous score?

Do we have to answer that question?

"None of us in here has any idea how he does it," said a press official as Tiger Woods settled into a chair to speak to reporters after a careening 70 that often resembled "Ben Hur" yesterday at Augusta National.

It was a spectacle, pure and simple, the golfing version of chariots and lions: four hours of rises and falls that did as much to validate Woods' growing legend as any of his well-documented successes.

Playing in black pants and a black shirt on a sunlit afternoon, Woods shot a 40 on the front nine, spraying his drives all over the course, scrambling for bogeys, missing putts and working on a fast and wicked pratfall in his much-trumpeted first Masters appearance as a pro.

"I was pretty hot at the way I was playing," Woods said.

Twenty-four other golfers shot 40 or worse on the front nine. Only three came back to break par on the back nine.

Actually, two broke par and one humiliated par.

Out of nowhere, Woods started chipping in, draining long putts, making birdies and leapfrogging rivals on the scoreboard.

Four birdies and an eagle on the first eight holes of the back nine had Augusta's tall pines all but swaying from the force of the cheers of a gallery that stretched 10 deep around Woods.

Woods' playing partner, Nick Faldo -- only the defending champion and best golfer in the world -- was rendered all but invisible as he grumped to a 75, slam-dunked as surely as a geek trying to guard Michael Jordan.

Arriving at the 18th tee, Woods needed one more birdie for a 29 on the back nine, tying the record.

He mashed his drive to within 97 yards of the hole on the 405-yard par-4, then lofted his approach shot to within 12 feet of the cup. His putt rolled just past the hole, forcing him to settle for a par and a 30.

"I'll take it," Woods said. "I was just glad to shoot a decent score after all the trouble on the front."

His score left him in fourth place after 18 holes, quite an accomplishment considering that he was on his way out of the tournament after nine holes.


Leave it to Woods, a 21-year-old single-handedly reinventing the golf tour, to find such an exhilarating way to shoot such a boring 70.

His explanation? Well, watching him shoot 40-30 was more exciting than listening to him explain it. He talked about swing keys and body position. He's a technician.

"I just wasn't driving the ball well at all on the front," he said. "This is obviously a big tournament, and I'm going to have some butterflies. My swing wasn't quite there. Even on the [driving] range it wasn't there. But I knew what I was doing wrong, and it was just a matter of working it out. I started to feel better on 10."

His gallery spent the next two hours stomping wildly across Augusta's manicured fields.

"You could hear them coming toward us after Tiger putted out," said Paul Stankowski, who was playing in the group in front of Woods and Faldo. "You have to be patient. There were a lot of people out there watching Tiger. I backed off a putt on 16 because I knew [Woods] was looking at an eagle putt on 15."

A 4-foot eagle putt, to be precise. Woods made it.

He also sank a long birdie chip with a 9-iron on 12, pitching from behind the green on Augusta's toughest hole.

"How long was that chip, Tiger?" a reporter said.

"I really can't tell you," Woods said.

"Is it a secret?" the reporter asked.

"Oh, it was about from me to the door," Woods said, pointing to a door about 25 feet away.

He said he planned to spend the evening on the practice range, working out the kinks that had pushed him so close to the brink on the front nine.

"I think I'll be fine," he said.

It's almost as if he's at war with his marvelous record, constantly trying to one-up himself with another outlandish feat.

Three straight U.S. amateur titles; four wins in his first seven months as a pro; a 64-63 on the weekend at Pebble Beach; a hole-in-one at Phoenix; a 7-iron to within six inches to win a playoff with Tom Lehman at the Mercedes Championships.

Now, a 40-30 on Thursday at the Masters, playing with Faldo as the whole golf world watched.

What's next? Something worth seeing, you can be sure of that.

Pub Date: 4/11/97

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