Tiger Woods produced his best golf of the year on Friday, firing a three-under-par 69 in the second round of the Masters.
The four-time former winner walked off the course with a smile on his face and a two-under total of 142, comfortably making the cut for the weekend, although he stood an imposing 12 shots off the pace set by Jordan Spieth.
Asked when he had last played tournament golf as well as that Woods replied: “I have no idea.”
He called a timeout on himself in mid-February to work on putting his crumbling game back together and was in doubt until the Friday before Masters week, when he played a practice round at Augusta National.
Prior to his break from competition, the 14-time major champion had endured a career-worst 82 at Phoenix and a withdrawal through back pain after 11 holes at Torrey Pines.
The 39-year-old former world number one had four birdies against one bogey on Friday and, while, his driving was at times wayward, he looked far more comfortable with his hitherto suspect short-game.
All in all it was a round that boosted Woods’ morale no end.
“Very, very proud of what I’ve done, to be able to dig it out the way I have,” he said.
“All the hard work that (my team) and I have been putting into it, I told you guys (journalists) on Tuesday, I was at a pretty low one in my career, but to basically change an entire pattern like that and put it together and put it in a position where I can compete in a major championship like this is something I’m very proud.”
Woods got off to the best of starts with a seven-footer for birdie at the first, but the chipping yips he has been suffering from briefly resurfaced greenside at the sixth resulting in a bogey.
He wasted no time in rebounding though, with confident back-to-back birdies at seven and eight to reach the turn in 34.
Another poor tee shot at the tough 11th hole looked like costing him a shot, but instead he hit a tremendous recovery shot to 10 feet and sunk the putt to get to two under, where he stayed for the rest of the round.
Woods’ body language appeared positive when he came off, but his chances of adding to his haul of 14 majors look very slim and totally dependent on a big collapse from Spieth.
The 21-year-old Texan evoked memories of Woods himself when he crushed the opposition in the 1997 Masters at a time when he was five months younger than Spieth is now.
Woods’ last Masters win was in 2005, his last major triumph was the US Open in 2008 and his last title of any kind the 2013 WGC at Firestone.
Still, he refused to rule himself out of contention, citing the stunning conclusion to the 1996 Masters when Nick Faldo came back from six down in the final round to beat Greg Norman by five strokes.
“I’m still right there,” he said. “I’m 12 back, but there’s not a lot of guys ahead of me. And with 36 holes here to go, anything can happen, you know – ’96 proved that.
“There’s so many holes to play and so many different things can happen. And as I say, we don’t know what the conditions are going to be tomorrow, what the (Masters) committee is going to do.”