3 compelling scenes from Tiger Woods’ Masters practice round

tiger woods and fred couples hug from the masters 18th green with Justin Thomas in the foreground

Tiger Woods' latest practice round with Fred Couples and Justin Thomas looked different than usual.

Ben Jared/Getty Images

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s Tuesday morning at the Masters. Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Fred Couples are walking up the 6th hole at Augusta National. Off the tee. Down the hill. Up the hill on the other side. Three figures wielding putters, silhouetted against a bottle-green sea. Some things never change.

But this year, some things have.

The scene looks different. There’s Thomas’ caddie, for one thing. For several years now Jim “Bones” Mackay has cut a distinct figure by his side, but this will be their first tournament apart. Mackay was best caddie friends with Woods’ looper, Joe LaCava, so the Woods-Thomas friendship worked on another level. But LaCava is gone, too, off to work for Patrick Cantlay, who plays a full PGA Tour schedule and thus serves as a more regular employer.

They’re the first group out, braving the rain if it means beating the crowds. Matt Minister — “Rev,” they call him — is looping for Thomas now. He used to loop for Cantlay; it’s a small world out here. Lance Bennett is on the bag for Woods. They linger on No. 6, watching their players hit some putts to Tuesday’s back-left pin position and then watching them pitch balls to other spots, too, like Sunday’s back-right hole. They’ve played well in enough majors to be optimists.

The greens are firm. Woods hits one skipper that hits, checks, and rolls out some five feet past a tee in the ground. He makes an adjustment. The next one stops stone-dead.

There’s a scarcity to watching Tiger Woods these days. The Masters used to be just one stop along the way, one opportunity of 18-20 where you could see him throughout the year. Plus, the place and the playing partners make it feel like this will happen every year, forever, just like this. It won’t. Couples is 64; he’s talked about seeing the end. Woods is 48; he’s demonstrated the end sometimes comes before we’d like it. He played 72 holes at just one PGA Tour event in 2023. He played 72 holes at just one PGA Tour event in 2022. He played 72 holes zero times in 2021.

All three hit the fairway at 7. They walk up together. We’re used to seeing Woods head-to-toe in the Nike Swoosh but that, too, has changed. His pants bear the name of his new clothing company: SUN DAY RED. There’s a tiger logo on his hat, and his chest, and his shoes.

“I’m liking this new look,” one woman says.

“The logo is stupid,” the man says next to her.

Woods sends his Bridgestone ball towards the flag. It’s a blind approach, so he can’t see it land, but he can tell by the sound. There’s a skip, and a stop, and a roar. It’s a foot away, maybe closer.

It doesn’t matter. Not at all. But of course it does.

Up on the podium, Fred Couples smiles.

“The walk was great,” he says. “We had a good time. A lot of new stories.”

He’s been hitting more woods than he’d like, he says. The course is playing longer than ever. He’s been injured. He’s withdrawn from two consecutive Champions tour events. But he wasn’t missing this.

“I live in Newport, and I withdrew there. I live in Palm Springs, too, and I didn’t even participate. I withdrew after the pro-am,” Couples says. “I didn’t touch a club from Thursday of whatever that was until Sunday here because I didn’t even want to move, and I played Sunday. Not very well, but I got it around. And then today.”

Couples doesn’t want to embarrass himself with a high score. He’s hoping that won’t be an issue.

“I don’t know if that’s a 73 or a 75, but I’m not shooting 80,” he says. “Can I shoot 80? Of course I can. But I’m not planning on it.”

He’s keen to point out that he doesn’t ask Woods about things he might not want to be asked. Not much injury talk. Not much LIV talk. No pressure. No expectations. Still, when he’s asked about the idea of Woods making his 24th consecutive Masters cut, his mind wanders…

“Well, I will say this: I think the last thing he’s thinking about is making the cut,” he says. “Can he win here? You know what, yeah. I just watched him play nine holes, and nine holes is only nine holes on a Tuesday, but he never mis-hits a shot. But the idea of making a cut, I think he would laugh at that. That’s a huge record, but he’s here to win. He’s here to play really, really hard.”

Woods is on the putting green. He’s been shuttled to the media center for his press availability, where he confirmed that his body hurts but he’s optimistic and, if everything breaks his way, he could have one more in him. Then he got shuttled back. Now he’s stroking three-and-a-half foot putts, first with his right hand and then his normal grip. His right-hand man Rob McNamara is behind him. His caddie Bennett is by the hole. He tosses three balls to Woods. Woods has two tees set up, a putter’s-width apart. He drags a ball between them and strokes it towards the hole.

That putt goes in, as does the next putt, as does the putt after that. He’s explaining to Bennett how he likes to putt, where he likes to hit it on the face, what happens if he misses that spot. He’s talking about his clubface and what happens if it gets too shut. It’s nerdy, fascinating stuff. A crowd has gathered on the other side of the rope line. They’re straining to hear.

Woods makes all three. He makes three more. He makes three more. He hits them at different speeds. He messes with different techniques. It’s tough to know how many he’s made in a row. Fifty? A hundred? A hundred fifty? It doesn’t matter, but of course it does. There are indentations in the practice green where his feet have been. He says something interesting to Bennett.

“I putt aggressively to the front edge.”

It’s advice. It’s philosophy. It’s information for his new guy, should he need to step in with advice of his own. It’s a three-point shooter saying he guns for the back rim — but for golf. It’s a reminder that these guys haven’t spent much time together.

These days, this is limited-edition viewing.

Dylan welcomes your comments at dylan_dethier@golf.com.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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