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If I'm being honest, I didn't expect much out of Tiger Woods when he surprised much of the golf and sports world by deciding to play this year's Masters.
I feared he'd come up lame during the first two rounds and withdraw, to his and most everyone's disappointment. And, if he managed to gimp his way through 36 holes, I had next to no confidence his game would be sharp enough to stave off embarrassment, after a 17-month PGA TOUR layoff, to survive the cut.
Not only has he advanced to the weekend but managed to wow the crowd and millions more on television as he has so often during his 25 years as a pro.
I've always been a believer, albeit one bent by the constraints of reality. Through various challenges in his life -- a 2017 DUI arrest (pleaded guilty to reckless driving); reported sexual-addiction treatment (I stood outside a Mississippi clinic for days, hunting for a sighting, for NBC News); highly public divorce; and a pair of single-car accidents, including last year's that left him with a badly mangled right leg, which he nearly lost -- it seemed his brilliant golf career would suffer irreparable harm.
And each time, without exception, Tiger came roaring back. So I, we, shouldn't have been surprised by the aptitude he has shown in the first two rounds at Augusta National Golf Club this week.
Was he in vintage form? Far from it. But he consistently rallied from ill-placed shots to avoid carding bloated numbers the masses would literally boast about for a lifetime. He turned in scores of 71 and 74, entering Saturday's third round at 1-over par, nine shots back of incoming leader Scottie Scheffler.
The 46-year-old Woods would love nothing more than to mount the kind of epic comeback, through sheer dominance, that has helped define his legacy and best Jack Nicklaus to become the oldest Masters champion, by about three weeks (Nicklaus was 46 years, 2 months and 23 days old when he famously prevailed in 1986; Woods turns 46 years, 3 months and 11 days old on Sunday).
That's unlikely to happen, not this year, at least. That's perfectly OK with Tiger, who's chased Nicklaus' record 18 majors -- Woods stands at 15 -- since winning his first, at 21, at the 1997 Masters, the youngest ever to win a green jacket.
"If you would have seen how my leg looked to where it's at now, the pictures -- some of the guys know; they've seen the pictures -- to see where I've been, to get from there to here, it was no easy task," he told The Associated Press.
“I’m proud of the fact that my whole team got me into this position,” Woods added. “We worked hard to get me here to where I had an opportunity and then not to have, as I said, any setbacks this week, and we haven’t. Kept progressing.”
At this point, no matter how he plays the rest of the tournament, Woods is essentially co-champion with the eventual winner. There's no question TV ratings will be higher, galleries of patrons more enthusiastic, and fellow players just a bit more keen around the course than otherwise.
All because of him. And the attention he commands.
For me, I'm savoring another opportunity to see a living legend ply his craft, aware now, more than ever, that the clock is ticking with his every drive and putt. Technically, he's still got a chance.
That's simply too inviting to miss. Undoubtedly.
That's my take. What's yours? Fire off your comments!