AUGUSTA, GA. – Tiger Woods admits that, when he practices putting, his back gets sore.
He admits that he no longer holds an advantage over his peers when hitting his driver.
He admits he’s old enough to remember winning a tournament with a persimmon club and practicing with a Discman on his hip, and that rising star Jordan Spieth was probably “in diapers’’ when Woods won his first Masters.
Wednesday, Woods will have his two children caddy for him in the Masters’ par-3 tournament. Only one of them remembers him winning a major.
Tuesday, he hugged virtually everyone on the practice range, and these were two-arms-around-the-back hugs. He played a practice round with Mark O’Meara, during which he needled his old friend, drawing laughter from the large group following them. He held a news conference during which he detailed the challenges of aging, and raising children while trying to practice.
He hasn’t won a major since 2008, or the Masters since 2005. He hasn’t played a competitive round since February, when he walked off Torrey Pines during a terrible performance while complaining about back problems. He hasn’t finished in the top 10 in any tournament in more than a year.
Once the proud owner of a thousand-yard glare, a patented brand of athletic arrogance and an unparalleled résumé, Woods is becoming more human by the day.
And that’s a terrible thing for the game.
Golf doesn’t need more average guys who talk about their kids.
Golf needs more demigods.
Woods fascinated because he for so long seemed impervious to human frailties. He dominated the golfing world by being stronger, harder working, mentally tougher and more ambitious than his peers. He set himself apart in the way he carried himself, the way he guarded his privacy, the way he controlled a tee box or a news conference.
Tuesday, Woods seemed to be trying to humanize himself, which might be telling.
When Woods was great, he didn’t care what anyone thought of him.
“People would never understand how much work I put into it, to come back and do this again,’’ he said. “But it was sunup to sundown, and whenever I had free time. If the kids were asleep, I’d still be doing it, and then when they were in school, I’d still be doing it. So it was a lot of work.’’
The same guy who used to try to unnerve playing partners with his glare and his galleries sounds as if he wants sympathy, or at least empathy.
On the health of his back, Woods said, “It just gets sore bending over and hitting so many putts.’’
On being 39: “I won the Masters when Jordan was still in diapers … The game has gotten bigger. When I first came out here, I think I averaged 296 [yards with the driver]. I was second to John Daly at the time. Now, for these guys, the carry number is 320. When I won my first tournament on tour, I beat Davis Love in a playoff with a persimmon driver.’’
Woods noted that when he joined the tour, only he and Vijay Singh worked out in the gym. Now Woods knows he wouldn’t be able to keep up with Rory McIlroy, a powerlifter and long hitter who has a chance to win the career Grand Slam this week.
Woods’ achievements still loom. It’s difficult to see him at the Masters and not remember ’97, or his four green jackets, or his 14 major titles.
It’s difficult for him, as well, to think about anything other than greatness.
“I still feel the same way,’’ he said. “I want to win. The whole idea is to prepare and to do that, and I feel like my game is finally ready to go and do that again.’’
He’s about to take a new swing and a faltering short game onto a course that punishes the imprecise.
For the first time since he turned pro, Tiger Woods will be a grand overachiever at the Masters if he merely makes the cut.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at souhanunfiltered.com. On