Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Tiger always makes the grade

AUGUSTA, Ga. - He is like Dracula, this Tiger Woods fellow. Get rid of him? Buffy would have to drive a stake directly into his heart.

The two-time defending Masters champion brought his C game, at best, for the first two rounds and barely made the cut. When they re-paired for the start of yesterday's third round, Woods was tied for 43rd and trailed leader Mike Weir by 11 shots.

Today, he will step to the first tee at Augusta National trailing the leader, Jeff Maggert, by just four strokes.

Good thing, too, because the Masters had the feel of your good old, everyday B.C. Open for the longest time.

The crowds seemed smaller, more subdued than usual. The roars weren't thundering out of the valley, echoing off the towering oak trees. There was just a funny feeling to this famed event.

It might have been the ho-hum leaderboard.

Maybe the slip-and-slide conditions outside the ropes, the residue of last week's awful wet weather.

Perhaps it was the distraction of Martha Burk's off-course carnival.

(Yeah, right. Ten months of planning and only 50 protestors showed up yesterday. Get serious. Among them, however, was the one-man branch of the Ku Klux Klan. He had two little, white, yippin' and yappin' poodles with him. Their names? Biscuit and Tinkerbell. No wonder he was short-sheeted by the Klan hierarchy. Can't have little ankle-nippin' poodles named Biscuit and Tinkerbell showing up for cross-burning practices.)

Anyway, there wasn't a whole lot of buzz around Augusta National, save for the exploits of fresh-faced amateur Ricky Barnes, who eventually staggered through Amen Corner to quell the momentum that had him riding in second place for much of the day.

About the same time Barnes skidded to even par, and eventually worse, Tiger completed a drive from nowhere into red numbers.

Suddenly, the hills were alive with the sound of birdies.

Suddenly, the 67th Masters became extraordinarily interesting.

Five birdies in six holes to the clubhouse for Maggert. Strong stretch runs for Vijay Singh and David Toms.

But nearly everyone was paying attention to a lone golfer. The world's best golfer who, without warning, found his A game.

Woods' linescore, to this point, reads 76-73-66. Just before 11 yesterday morning, during the completion of second-round play, just moments after sleep-walking through a three-putt at No. 8, Woods came to his final hole needing a par just to make his 102nd consecutive cut.

Tiger put his tee shot at No. 9 into the trees, then laced a waist-high 5-iron shot into a greenside bunker, the intended target considering he didn't want to land the ball on the green and have it run above the hole. He blasted to just inside four feet, then rammed it into the jar.

Your average golfer, at this point, takes a deep sigh of relief for having survived the cut. Your average Tiger took a deep breath and sought out the scent of the winner's circle.

“Absolutely,” he said.

He followed with six birdies, jump-starting his front nine - he started at No. 10 - with a monster putt, at least 40 feet, at the 11th hole. He rolled in something similar at the sixth hole.

“Thank goodness it had a train-wreck at the hole or I might have been pitching back out of the bunker,” he said. “That was big. That's when I knew I was back in the tournament.”

Now that he's back in it, he can go for history - a third straight green jacket.

“It makes me feel assured knowing I've done it here before,” Woods said. “I know how to win major championships. I've had that experience on the back nine on Sunday.

“That's what this tournament always comes down to. Anything can happen on the final nine. I'm four shots back and it's not inconceivable I can be [in position] for the back nine.”

With Tiger, nothing is inconceivable. Not even cutting the deck thin to make the cut, then passing people like he's on the Autobahn.

Woods is one of golf's all-time great front-runners. His record is spotty when it comes to rallying from behind on the final day.

But this is the Masters.

This is Augusta National.

All eyes will be on only one man.

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