My head and my heart engaged in a spirited debate after Tiger Woods played 18 holes Tuesday at Augusta National.
My glutes tried to make a point but they didn’t activate.
OK, that was a cheap shot. I really hope Woods’ inoperative rump doesn’t clench up and keep him from the Masters next week like it prompted his first-round withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open in February.
He took a leave of absence to repair his dreadful game and we haven’t seen him since. But his private jet was spotted in Augusta and his agent, Mark Steinberg, confirmed to USA Today that Woods flew up for a practice round. “He continues to work on the game and will advise in coming days what plan is,” Steinberg wrote in an email.
With that, my heart and head went at it.
HEART: You know what this means! Tiger is back, baby! Golf isn’t the same without him but we won’t have to worry about that next week. Count on it and don’t be surprised if there’s more. He wouldn’t bother going to Augusta nine days before the Masters unless he plans to play. And he wouldn’t play unless he intends to win.
HEAD: He should intend to contend and be happy with that. He hasn’t been a factor for a long time and there’s no good reason to believe the Masters will be different. He just fell out of the top 100 in the world rankings for the first time since 1996. Cal Ripken was still shy of Lou Gehrig’s “Iron Man” record in 1996.
HEART: Forget about whatever the numbers suggest. He’s still Tiger Woods and this is still the Masters. He owns Augusta National like no one else. He has 13 top-10 finishes – including four victories – in 17 appearances as a pro. His career scoring average is 70.86, the best among players with at least 50 starts in the Masters.
HEAD: That’s all ancient history. He hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005 and hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. Between injuries, a reconstructed swing and more injuries, the man has played just 47 holes this year – at 15-over par! He knows he stinks. Deep down, he probably wonders if he can regain his old form For now, he just looks old.
HEART: Well, it sounds like he’s in reverse. The Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte said Tiger recently tore up his hometown course in Palm Beach, Fla., shooting a “worst-ball 66.” In other words, he played two balls per hole and took the worse shot in each situation. That’s arguably more impressive than the 62 he shot to set the Medalist course record in 2011.
HEAD: Good for him. But shooting a low score at some private club with no one else around is a lot different than tackling Amen Corner with teaming galleries and CBS cameras watching every twitch. He can win another dozen Arnold Palmer Invitationals and they wouldn’t equal another Masters trophy. Getting to Butler Cabin is a tradition unlike any other.
HEART: Exactly! And Woods is like no other golfer ever. Everything is set for a dramatic comeback on the 10th anniversary of his last win at Augusta. Yes, he’s coming off a wretched stretch and fighting rust. But don’t forget 2010, when he almost won in his first post-scandal Masters after not playing in six months. His life was a wreck but he tied for fourth anyway.
HEAD: 2010 might as well be 1910. That’s how faraway Woods’ game is now compared to then. It’s almost painful to watch him play like a mere mortal, never knowing where the ball is headed, never knowing when a swing will be followed by pain and grimaces. He certainly doesn’t scare anyone anymore. Golfers used to dread being paired with him; now they’re salivating.
HEART: They’re the only ones who should be careful what they wish. Everyone else – fans, broadcasters, sponsors, Augusta business owners – will be thrilled by his return, regardless. Woods can shoot 83 and still draw more eyeballs than a no-name shooting 63. When he missed the Masters last year, the tournament had its lowest weekend ratings since 1957. We love Tiger!
HEAD: No argument there. But it’s unrequited love at this point. He can’t give it back like he used to, when he’d sink an incredible shot and pump his fist as roars reverberated through the course. We didn’t care that he was cold and robotic, disdainful of those around him. We couldn’t look away because he was great. Now we can’t look away because he’s a wreck.
GLUTES: Hey guys! I’m back. Just like Tiger! And he’s gonna …