Friday, April 9, 2010

Remarkable first day at the Masters -- Woods emphatically returned, Couples leads and Watson still on a roll

Well, no one ever said the guy couldn’t play golf.

All of those who wondered if Tiger Woods could come back and play well after a 144-day layoff from competition got a swift and emphatic answer yesterday. Miss the cut? How about he might win the tournament?

At the climax of one of the more remarkable first days anyone has ever seen at The Masters, Woods shot the best first round score in the 16 Masters he has played, a four-under-par 68. The round included two eagles—one at the eighth where he caught a break with a good hop on his second shot, the other at the 15th where he hit two perfect shots to about 10-feet and drained the putt. He also hit one of those shots that he seems to have invented: a twisting, draw-hook around the trees at the 9th hole. The ball somehow stayed on the green, sucked back to about 10-feet and he made a remarkable birdie.

His behavior wasn’t perfect—there were a couple of club slams—but overall was more subdued, as he had promised it would be. As the round went on and his play improved, the crowd warmed to him more and more. To say he was in a good mood when the round was over is an understatement.

If he puts on a green jacket here on Sunday evening, which is entirely possible, he will be re-deified by most.

And yet, he and his friends at Nike managed to do exactly what Woods said he didn’t want to do: take the focus off his golf. By airing the new Tiger-‘Earl,’ commercial on Wednesday they reminded everyone about the events of the past few months that turned golf from a sport into a soap opera.

Woods was asked about the ad after he finished his round and said this: “Well, I think it’s very apropos. I think that’s what my dad would say. It’s amazing how it—how my dad can speak to me from different ways, even he’s long gone. He’s still helping me. I think any son who has lost a father and who meant so much in their life, I think they would understand the spot.”

Really? I’m a son who has lost a father who meant a lot to me and I don’t get the spot. I certainly don’t get the timing, coming at the precise moment when everyone—EVERYONE—is ready to focus on Woods as a golfer again and put all that’s gone on at the very least on a backburner for a while.

Nike has always gone for edgy ads and it has worked for the company, especially in terms of calling attention to itself. This one may backfire. My sense is that people are offended by the notion of Tiger and Nike somehow trying to cash in on what’s occurred especially NOW. On the one hand he says he wants to move on with his life—which he should be able to do—on the other hand he’s making a commercial that is somehow supposed to rehabilitate his image by saying, ‘Earl would have known better.’

Okay, I’m not even going to get into that. But the timing was bad and the ad is already being parodied on the internet. Enough said.

Meanwhile, even if Woods had NOT been in the field, the Thursday leaderboard would have been fabulous. Fred Couples at 50? Tom Watson at 60??!—again? Not to mention Phil Mickelson—remember him, pretty good player I think—Y.E. Yang, Ian Poulter and Ricky Barnes. All are on the leaderboard, led by Couples who shot his low round ever at The Masters—a 66—to take the lead.

Okay, it’s only Thursday, but it was still pretty cool. I’m biased, but the story of the day for me was Watson. For a long time now he has talked about not being able to play this golf course anymore since he’s not as long as he was years ago and the golf course has been super-sized. He’s only made one cut here since 1998—in 2002—and missed the cut by one two years ago when he played the last three holes in four-over-par.

This year, his son Michael is caddying for him. Michael is a very good amateur player in his own right, in fact father and son finished second in the Pro-Am at Pebble Beach two years ago which Watson called one of the bigger thrills of his career.

Michael Watson works in commercial real estate these days but he’s taking his job this week very seriously. Over the weekend he gave his father a serious talking to, telling him he needed to stop talking about where he USED to hit the ball from before the golf course was lengthened and his drives were shortened. “Okay, you aren’t hitting seven iron anymore, but you can still hit a four or five iron really well,” he told him. “You can still play here if you believe you can play here.”

Both Watsons were in great spirits on Thursday morning. On Sunday afternoon, by pre-arrangement, Tom hit his second shot on the 13th hole way left, using a four iron. On Sunday, families can walk inside the ropes when players go out to practice since there are no fans on the grounds, so Michael’s girlfriend, Beth Lindquist, was walking along.

When everyone walked over to try to find the ball, Michael stunned Beth by taking out an engagement ring, dropping to a knee and proposing.

“The first thing I said was, ‘are you kidding?’” she said on Wednesday. “He said, ‘I’m on one knee, I’m holding an engagement ring do you THINK I’m kidding?’”

So, the week got off to a good start in more ways than one.

In spite of his great round Thursday, Watson’s realistic. He pointed out to the media that he had made two 30-foot bombs on putts that were moving fast when they hit the hole and had gotten it up and down five straight times from the 10th to the 14th holes. Still, it was a great way to start The Masters and it is pretty clear that Watson is still on the roll that began last July with his near miss at Turnberry.

“There’s been a glow since then,” he said. “It’s come really from people coming up to me and saying, ‘hey, you showed me I’m not too old to still do things.’ That’s meant a lot to me.”

If Watson and Couples can somehow stick around the leaderboard through Sunday, it would mean a lot to a lot of people.


Anonymous said...

It is great seeing the oldtimers on the leaderboard..It is still a great game without Tiger--but his presence sure helps. Personally, I would defend nike because the ad has an air about it that Tiger was being taken to the woodshed by his Dad as he silently listened. Sure, he had to approve and it is manipulation, but had Nike done anything to celebrate Tiger or ignored the crisis; they would have been chastised. This was not perfect; but not a bad option under the circumstances. Sammy

case said...

it is nice to see the oldtimers doing well,but please don't call this a sport or its players athletes
i can think of no real sport where 50 and 60 year olds can be among the best
so a fine game ,but not a sport(from a 63 year old

Dana King said...

I've been paying as little attention as it is possible to pay to Tiger Woods and still be aware of sports news in general, and had thought we'd finally be able to forget about this for the most part. Then I saw the Nike ad, sad Tiger looking into the camera while Earl--the man who made him what he is today in more ways than we thought--gives him a talking-to. This is the most cynical, self-indulgent piece of crap I think I have ever seen.

Michael Jordan did an ad--for Nike, of course--about 15 years ago. Michael alone in a gym, shooting free throws, with a voice over: What if I wasn't recognizable everywhere I go. What if I could go places and be left alone to just play ball?

Gee, Michael, what if you didn't make a new commercial or endorse another product every 15 minutes? He chose to be the most recognizable athlete in the world; don't whine about it--for money--now.

That was the ad i disliked most for 15 years, until Tiger trumped it this week.

EddieTorial said...

A Tiger win would be "...bad for humanity..."? Talk about hyperbole -- how about a reality check! What Tiger did is his business and the most natural activity for the human species, my friend -- it's called procreation. And enough with the Freddy couples built-in bad back excuse in case his game "goes south"! Maybe he should see Dr. Galea!

Chris Wilson said...


Your next book: "Near Miss". With Watson' near miss at the British and Butler's near miss at the NCAAs, all you need is one more monumental near miss in the next few months to make a great book about those highs and lows over a relatively short 12 month period. Perhaps the US soccer team's performance at the World Cup this summer could provide some fodder. Or Roddick's near miss over Federer at last summer's Wimbledon (though not on par in terms of import as Watson's and Butler's "misses").

After all, it is the "could've beens" that make sports so engaging to follow and watch. At least for me.

kp said...

I know this thread is a few days old and this comment is a little stale because of it, but after the masters concluded, a couple of things struck me.

First, when coverage began on Saturday aft, with Tiger slamming his clubs and dropping expletives after missing the correct side of the 6th green, no-one commented on Westwood's reaction after hitting virtually the same shot. Shoulders shrugged, a little muttering to himself and carry on.

What exactly will it take for the guy to express any humility? and yes, that was a rhetorical question.