1 striking Tiger Woods moment you missed on Masters Thursday

tiger woods laughs at amen corner with Joe Greiner at the Masters.

Tiger Woods' journey around Amen Corner revealed something inspiring about the state of his game.

Darren Riehl/GOLF

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It never quite occurs to you that the phrase spine-tingling is overused until you’re standing at the bend of Amen Corner on Masters Thursday.

But then suddenly you’re there, with Tiger Woods emerging from the shadows of the 11th fairway at Augusta National just a few shots off the opening round Masters lead, and it occurs to you that your spine is tingling. Not in a sappy, metaphorical way — but in tangible bursts of energy that start at the base of your neck and travel down your spine. Every cell in your body, every atom, is strained toward the image of a 48-year-old Tiger Woods in a peach-colored polo shirt trotting down toward his ball at the base of the green. It doesn’t matter that Adam Scott and Cameron Young are about to hit their approach shots into the hole Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley compared to the Mona Lisa just feet away. Nobody can look away, and even though nobody’s said it, you all know why.

The truth is that we don’t know how many more times we’ll see an able-bodied Tiger Woods make it to the fringe of the 11th green at the Masters while still in contention. And though that accomplishment feels small and low on Thursday next to the Masters achievements that have managed to change the course of the club and tournament and sport of golf, it’s an accomplishment that the 2,500 or so of us can cling to together.

It’s foolish that the golf world hopes Woods can still win a 16th major. The golf world knows that. It’s the first thing most of Amen Corner says when he arrives.

“Well, he’s got a pretty good trot,” one of them says.

“Doesn’t look too painful,” a woman replies.

But then the scoreboard changes over Woods’ head and a cheer ripples through the crowd. Tiger is one under, good for T17 on a darkness-shortened opening day. Hope may be foolish, but it’s stubborn.

Tiger likely won’t win a sixth green jacket this week. He hasn’t played a 72-hole tournament in 14 months. He hasn’t played 72 holes at the Masters in two years … and 72 competitive holes in longer than that. His odds of hanging with the best golfers in the world over four days — a group that includes Scottie Scheffler, whose game is nearing a Woodsian level of boring inevitability — are still long. And yet it’s after 7 p.m. on Thursday evening and there’s hardly room for a soul to squeeze into the spectator’s mound behind Amen Corner, which means there’s still a chance.

Woods takes a moment to survey his chip shot on the 11th before he addresses his ball. He settles on a sort of high-spinner he’s hit at least a hundred times on this hole, the kind where the ball whizzes through the air before halting on command. The key is utterly perfect contact, but a thousand of these shots rest deep in the memory of those calloused hands. He scares the flag with the shot, which arcs through the air like a wiffle ball and spins like one, resting neatly on the edge of the hole.

This crowd has screamed a million times for Tiger Woods chip shots on these holes, but this time is different. They roar with a deep, sudden delight. Woods taps in a moment later and the noise follows again.

Woods laughs with Joe Greiner, the caddie for his playing partner Max Homa, as he walks toward the 12th tee box — the hole Ridley called the “most iconic par-3 in the world.” But they’re alone in the laughter. Perhaps it’s that the pair realizes they’ve only got two holes left until play will be delayed for darkness, leaving Tiger with some 23 holes on Friday, the latest test of his physical upper limits. Perhaps it’s that they know that one under for Tiger Woods on Masters Thursday is enough to keep open the possibility that he can stick around in contention. Perhaps it’s that they realize the chip shot surprised all of us at Amen Corner, even Tiger.

The rest of the crowd has gotten over the surprise. They’re busy rising, slowly at first, and then all at once — for what will surely be the longest and loudest standing ovation at the 12th hole at the Masters … until Woods returns again tomorrow.

The moment is short. The ovation is gone quickly. But it feels like the least the gallery can do on Masters Thursday. They know they’re running on borrowed time, and it’s difficult to express the depth of the gratitude and appreciation they feel without upsetting the green jackets. So they stand and cheer, and they hope a little too.

And it’s the hope that sticks with you. Even when it’s for the guy with the mangled body and zero 72-hole tournaments played this year. Because just for a moment you feel it too.

It starts in the spine.

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