Tiger Woods’ recovery plan is on the golf course

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by Tim Dahlberg
Associated Press Writer

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP)—Kultida Woods was worried.

No, her son wasn’t being slapped with divorce papers. No mistresses or porn stars were stalking him.

But he did seem on the verge of throwing away any chance he had to win the Masters. And at this moment that seemed like the most critical part of Tiger Woods’ recovery so far.

“Bogey?” Mrs. Woods yelled out from her vantage point off the seventh fairway. “Come on now, stop that.”

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FIGHTING BACK—Tiger Woods tees off at the fourth hole during the third round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., April 10.

Woods was plenty worried himself. He couldn’t figure out the speed of the greens, some of his shots were going sideways, and two early birdies seemed like a distant memory.

And that thing he promised about controlling himself on the golf course? One bad swing on the par-3 sixth took care of that.

“Tiger, you suck,” Woods muttered, before adding a curse for good measure. All caught by the CBS microphones, of course, for the listening pleasure of millions watching an afternoon of Masters drama play out on a gorgeous Saturday.

Informed that he cursed, Woods said, “Did I? If I did, then I’m sorry.”

Being Tiger Woods once meant never having to say you’re sorry. So count that in Woods’ favor, even if weeks in therapy haven’t changed everything about the world’s greatest golfer.

Indeed, after a wild round left him still within striking distance on Sunday, it was clear one vital thing was still the same—Woods still has the resolve that made him so feared for so many years.

“That’s fine. That’s never a problem,” Woods said, referring to his mental toughness before repeating himself for emphasis. “That’s not a problem.”

No, the problem was the swing that had served Woods so well in the first two days of his comeback from a scandal that sent him into rehab for reasons he refuses to disclose. The putter disappeared for long stretches, too, in an erratic round that seemed to confound Woods as much as it did his mother.

Kultida Woods couldn’t do anything about it, though she offered a running commentary to Nike chairman Phil Knight as they followed her son around the course, and following them was a uniformed deputy sheriff.

After Woods hit his first putt up a big hill and well past the hole on No. 6, she explained to Knight that the putt was just too tough.

“If you do not putt it hard it will come down,” she said. “It’s a hard putt. A hard putt.”

Missing from the small entourage was Woods’ wife, Elin, but that was hardly a surprise. How things stand between Woods and his wife only they know, though it wouldn’t be hard to guess that the marriage remains a work in progress.

It’s not hard to guess what this Masters means to Woods, either. Returning to the place he feels most comfortable was a big step in his comeback from public ridicule, and getting into contention after two rounds was an even bigger step in proving he still has his magic touch.

Saturday wasn’t nearly as easy, despite two birdies on the first three holes that moved Woods to within one shot of the lead. He had struggled on the practice range, and the swing was not there once play began no matter how hard he tried to find it.

He was seven shots back and heading in the wrong direction when he plunked it in the sand on the par-3 12th. But he got up-and-down for par, then went birdie-birdie-birdie before following a bogey on No. 17 with a birdie on the final hole.

The final tally was seven birdies and five bogeys, but it could have been a lot worse. It left him tied for third, four strokes back of Lee Westwood and three behind Phil Mickelson.

More importantly, it left him with a smile on his face as he walked off the 18th green.

“I fought as hard as I possibly could to get myself back in the ballgame,” Woods said. “At one point I was seven back and to fight back there and to get it where I’m only four back right now was a pretty big accomplishment.”

Fighting back seems to be a recurring theme here for Woods, who the day before likened his return to golf to that of Ben Hogan following the 1949 car accident that nearly took his life. That was an unfortunate comparison at best, considering his own accident resulted in just five stitches to his lip and was of his own making.

Then there’s the Nike ad that invokes the voice of his late father. Woods thinks it’s “apropos.” It’s not. It’s creepy and exploitative, with the words of Earl Woods taken out of context.

None of that bothered the thousands who swarmed around him on every hole Saturday, trying to get a look at Woods in action. They cheered for him from the first tee to the 18th green, excited to see him in the mix again.

Woods seemed almost as excited to be there himself, on a day when roars cascaded across Augusta National and it felt more like a final round. He was in contention again, and he seemed as if he almost couldn’t wait to get to the driving range to figure out what was wrong with his swing so he could fix it for Sunday.

There may be a few curse words then, too. Woods, after all, is new to the gentleman part of a gentleman’s game.

Fans may cover their ears, but no one will cover their eyes. Woods in red on Sunday in the next-to-last group at the Masters is compelling enough even in normal times.

And if the last five months have proved anything, these are not normal times.

Except for watching Phil Mickelson slip into another green jacket, Tiger Woods should have few complaints about his week at the Masters.

He tied a tournament record by making four eagles. He was never out of the top 10 from the opening round. He had his best 72-hole score at Augusta National in five years.

“Overall, it was a good week,” Woods said Sunday after he tied for fourth.

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