I followed Tiger Woods around Augusta National – here’s my Masters prediction

April 8, 2024

FIRST PERSONDespite his recent struggles, Woods’ ability to inspire awe shows little sign of dimming, even if his face has lost entirely the glow of youthAUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 08: Tiger Woods of The United States plays a shot on the 17th hole during a practice round prior to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 08, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia by David Canno. Tiger Woods is set to be a part of the field at the Masters AUGUSTA NATIONAL — Before the eclipse of the sun in the early afternoon came the eclipse of the field by one Tiger Woods, the presence of whom obliterated from view every other golfer on the course. Even his playing partner, Will Zalatoris, was a shadowy presence, neither here nor there in the eyes of the beholders.Woods and Zalatoris were the first on the course, teeing off at the 10th at 08:35. The patrons were already in situ, lining the fairways and packing the grandstands around Amen Corner (holes 11, 12, 13). The appearance of Woods so early in the day was a reward for those lucky enough to come out in the annual ticket ballot with a Monday pass.There are few rites of passage in sport as blissful as the first morning of the Masters. Augusta National evokes an Arcadian vison that has always been out of reach of the majority. To experience it in any capacity is an assault on the senses. To do so in the presence of arguably the game’s greatest golfer on a dappled morning caressed by a gently warming sun felt like a privilege.EXPLAINEDAll the clues that Tiger Woods will be playing at the Masters in 2024Read MoreThe capacity of Woods to inspire awe in onlookers shows little sign of dimming. The signs of ageing are increasingly present in his walk, propelled by feet that appear to belong to someone else. He looks smaller somehow, and his face has lost entirely the glow of his epic youth.His tee shot at the 14th was a good 30 metres short of the ball smashed through the ether by Zalatoris, who was born a year before Woods’ first Masters win in 1997. On the par-15th Woods called for a second ball after pulling his first tee shot left. The second he sprayed right.This will be only his second tournament of the year, the first, two months prior at the Genesis Invitational, the scene of his near career-ending car accident in 2021, ended early when he withdrew with flu. There have been encouraging murmurs coming out of the Jupiter golf community about Woods’ ball-striking, but there is barely a hill in Florida of which to speak.At Augusta the ground plunges 150 feet from its highest point at the 10th tee to its lowest at the 12th green. Barely any part of the territory is without some kind of slope and almost every foot of the descent must be negotiated on the way back to the 18th green, which sits just beneath the 10th tee.Last year, in awful weather, the conditions proved too much for his withered right leg, forcing his withdrawal during the third round. He at least made the cut. The forecast is brighter this year, save for Thursday when a storm is forecast, and Woods knows his way around the property even if he is diminished.Indeed, Zalatoris spoke enthusiastically about Woods’ prospects. “He played great today. He outdrove me a couple times so there was some chirping going on. So, you know, he looks great. He’s moving as well as he can be. Again, with everything he’s gone through, it’s pretty amazing to see how good he’s swinging it.”