Tiger Woods’ longest day ended at 3.17pm when three whistles of sirens at the Augusta National signaled the cancellation of play and a temporary end to his struggles.
With heavy rain and hail biting into his damaged right leg, the greatest golfer of his generation could barely walk.
He had downed five shots on his three previous holes. He was 54th out of 54 players left at The Masters in the third round. He was three shots adrift in the bottom of the field.
But this is not a story designed to elicit sympathy. This is a story that should impress.
There are many ways athletes can inspire those around them, and in the past, Woods has done so almost exclusively through winning. Now, with a broken body but an unquenchable spirit, things are different.
Tiger Woods pressed to avoid being cut off at The Masters earlier this morning in the rain
The American would go nine-over-par in his third round before play was suspended
The 15-time major winner battled with the elements on the course and appeared to be in pain
Those of us who followed him around the hills and valleys of Augusta in a seven-hour downpour on Saturday were really lucky.
His ordeal began—for that was what it seemed—a little after eight o’clock in heavy rain, light mist, and something bordering on solitary.
The Pioneers were held at the gates until the players resumed the remainder of the second inning, and so Woods stood in the safe corner in front of the deserted stands and raised the tee at 12 over Rye Creek and to within five feet of the pin. .
It was the beginning of an epic.
Woods misplaced the birdie and stayed at +2, near the cut line. He fired his car from the reshaped No. 13 tee, plunged his hands deep into the pockets of his blue jacket and limped down the lane, bent into the wind.
The weather was sloppy. He wasn’t quite as bad as Storm played at The Open at Muirfield in 2002 when he shot 81 in his third round. But not far.
Throughout the morning, he has been trailing behind his playing partners, Xander Schavelli and Victor Hovland, as they march forward.
Woods referenced his right leg which was badly damaged in his car accident in Los Angeles two years ago, reacting poorly to the cold and was clearly in a state of extreme discomfort. His expression was grim but Woods had a target and wouldn’t waver from it.
You may have seen a clip from a video known as The Crawl, which chronicles the final few yards of the 1997 Hawaii Ironman and features an agonizing battle between two exhausted athletes, Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham, to get to the line first.
Only when one of them crawls over the line does the narrator reveal that they were competing for fourth place.
The sequence is inspiring because it highlights the purity of desire to compete and the strength of character that burns some athletes.
Perhaps that was why he felt so deeply moved to follow Woods around the final seven holes in Augusta on Saturday in the wind and rain, to feel like the showrooms wanted his entry, and to feel the desperation of success, when everything was at stake for him. It was whether he could make the cut.
This is a guy who’s won the tournament five times, who pulled off one of the greatest comeback victories the sport has ever seen when he won here in 2019, a guy who’s won 15 major championships, a guy who’s already filled with his signature ball, and a guy who’s been playing with so much pain, yet He played those seven holes as if he were after the sport’s biggest prize.
On several occasions, patrons could see Woods struggling to walk in the cold, wet weather
Woods started his third round with a bogey before hitting double bogeys in the 15th and 16th
Conditions were terrible in Augusta on Saturday with rain causing water to pool on the greens
Like all of us, Woods, at 47, has many faults, but even if it’s hard to take some of what he’s done off the course, his indomitable spirit as a sportsman lies at the heart of how we view him.
By this morning, he knew he had no chance of winning the tournament. He was fighting for the right to contest the last two rounds. He was fighting for the right to push his battered body through the pain barrier by playing 25 holes a day.
Not everyone has it. Some of the big names who were knocked out of the tournament on Friday grumbled looking defeated 18 years ago, long ago. Not Woods. This will never be his way. And he was fighting for pride, too.
He knew he hadn’t missed the cut at The Masters since turning professional in 1997 and that if he made it this time around, he would tie the record for making the cut for 23 straight appearances held, jointly, by Fred Couples and Gary Player. Woods had already made a lot of history at Augusta, but this was an opportunity to make even more.
He was already limping badly on the thirteenth lane as his leg was cold. Hovland was dressed as if he were going cross-country skiing in Norway, with gloves covering his hands and a thick woolen hat on his head.
Woods cut his second shot into the crowd but lifted his third over one of the jacks leading to Rye Creek guarding the front of the green. The galleries cheered, but Woods’ eyes were glued to the ball. He said fiercely: Sit down, sit down. The ball is sitting. Woods made it a par.
“Dang it, Tiger,” one of the patrons shouted at him.
He was still right on the cutting line. His approach to the par-5 15 was right on the flag. He hit the pin but slipped through the green.
The exhibits were ready to sink his 20-foot birdie and when he disappeared into the cup, a huge roar rolled around the natural amphitheatre there. Woods tipped his hat to the fielder, but it was noticeable that his limp became more noticeable as he walked across the green.
Woods equalized at 16 but dropped a putt at 17, as the pin was in a very difficult position. Another hole to go and it’s back to +2. Again on the cutting line.
It was raining heavily again. It fell in the form of sheets while he was walking on the 18th and tied his car to trees. He broke through to the fairway and raised a third shot on the green. He had a 35-foot shooting par.
By the time he reached the green, he was already in the water. Caddy gave him a towel and he tried to dry himself and wipe his forehead with it but the towel was also wet and Woods flicked it in weary irritation.
He stood on his feet, and the huge gallery crowded around the green, sheltered by a giant canopy of clustered green and white umbrellas, wanted him to carve it out.
It was a valiant effort and there was a moment when it looked like she was going to curl into the hole but she just missed the right lip and came to rest a foot out.
Woods exploited it to get a bogey to finish at +3. The crowd rose to him but Woods looked completely sad. He thought that all the pain and all his searching efforts were in vain.
was wrong. The others, including his friend Justin Thomas, had melted into the elemental attack giving him a way back and now his +3 was the cut line. He did it.
He would have two more competitive rounds of golf in Augusta after all. He would play with increasing pain in that right leg. It will get harder to rain, and conditions more hostile.
Woods though is still fighting back and has attracted the support of many sponsors at Augusta National
While he may not win this week, his indomitable spirit is why he is one of the greats in the sport
Starting his third round on the 10th tee, he’ll get a double-bogey on the 15th, dunk his ball in the water in the 16th and double-bogey, too, will be within three shots at the bottom of the field on +9 with less than half the round played.
Since Augusta Greens were overwhelmed and play was abandoned that day, he would reach a point where it would be difficult for him to put one foot in front of the other.
He will not play for nothing but pride and love for the sport. The desire and hunger to do so is what makes Woods an iron man in golf.
This is what sets it apart from many of its competitors. Long after the win is over, that’s what makes it so great.