“Guys, my start line is right here!” Tiger Woods said, walking and pointing toward the people still in his intended shot path on the right side of the 11th fairway at the Masters.
By Sally Fahey
None of the fans could see the shot Woods was imagining yesterday in the first round of the Masters:
Off the pine straws where his tee shot had landed, low and wide right, curling back into the fairway before rolling up to the area just short of the green.
Woods shot a 1-over-par 73 in the opening round of the Masters, a fine day considering the back injuries he overcame to get back here. But it could have been better—and should have been, in his mind, had his second shot on No. 11 not been stopped dead by a patron’s chair.
The result was a bogey, which Woods followed by hitting his tee shot on No. 12 into Rae’s Creek, which led to another bogey.
As he had been in other recent tournaments, Woods was erratic off the tee. But his deftness with his irons and sheer creativity have long made him a master of the recovery shot. The one he planned on No. 11 might have been one of his best.
A clearing in the trees offered Woods a path toward the green, albeit one few others fully understood. To get the ball there, Woods would have to avoid getting his backswing clipped by the branch behind him, then hit a low, searing, looping shot that, with the help of the downslope, could roll to the mouth of the green.
The problem was the throng of people standing where his ball would need to start off. Every time marshals pushed patrons back a few feet, Woods and his caddie, Joe LaCava, would tell them they were still in the way. After about five minutes, they resigned themselves to making due with the space they had.
Woods appeared to pull off the shot just as he intended. Marc Guertin, a 46-year-old South Carolina golf pro, was in the first row of people about halfway between Woods and the green. The ball came right at him. “It was right along the crowd line,” he said. “Everyone backed up.” Except, he said, a man standing next to him holding a green folding chair. “When I backed up, the ball hit the chair,” he said.
Woods was fuming. “God!” he said as he walked toward the ball.
After the round, Woods said, “It was a great shot there. Unfortunately people ran out and it clipped them. Otherwise it’s just short right of the green, an easy up-and-down from there, where I was trying to leave it.”
Woods’s comeback has generated a swell of interest, but the bedlam he creates around him on the course can occasionally become a hindrance. During the Farmers Insurance Open in January, during his backstroke on a putt, a fan yelled, “Get in the hole!” Woods missed. On Thursday, Woods was the gravitational force that determined the flow of the crowd throughout the course.
The consolation for Woods was that he managed to recover. He birdied the 14th and 16th holes, keeping alive his chances of getting into contention over the weekend.
“I could have easily let it slip away,” Woods said. “I fought hard to get back in there, and I’m back in this championship. There’s a lot of holes to be played.”