Tiger Woods insisted he had suffered no ill effects following a bizarre incident which threatened to derail his thrilling charge into contention at the 83rd Masters.
For the second day running, Woods pulled off a superb recovery shot from the trees on the 14th hole at Augusta National, only for a security guard to run in to try to control the crowd, slip on the wet ground and slide knee-first into Woods’s right ankle.
Woods limped away grimacing in pain but there appeared to be no lasting damage and after holing from 15 feet for birdie, the 43-year-old also converted from twice the distance on the par-five 15th.
Further good chances went begging on the 17th and 18th but a 68 left Woods just one shot off the lead shared by Francesco Molinari, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen, all current or former major champions.
Woods, who is seeking a first major since 2008 and a first Masters title since 2005, told ESPN: “Accidents happen, we move on. Other than having four knee surgeries and four back surgeries I’m great.
“It’s all good. I’ve had galleries run over me (before). When you play in front of a lot of people things happen.”
Woods needed a nerve block simply to attend the Champions Dinner at Augusta National in 2017 and flew to London the same evening to consult a specialist about his ongoing back problems.
He subsequently underwent spinal fusion surgery and returned to competition in November that year before playing a full season in 2018, culminating in his 80th PGA Tour in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Woods also finished sixth in the Open Championship at Carnoustie and runner-up in the US PGA at Bellerive and added: “The last major championships I have been right there in the mix.
“I had the lead at the British Open in the final round, had a shot at the PGA and here I am at the Masters.”
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At the start of last week Corey Conners was not even in the Masters, but 11 days later he found himself sharing a tee with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and high on the leaderboard at Augusta National.
Conners survived a six-man play-off to qualify for the Valero Texas Open last Monday and went on to win his first PGA Tour title in San Antonio to secure the final place in the 87-man field for the year’s first major.
The 27-year-old, who carded rounds of 80 and 69 on his Masters debut as an amateur in 2015, was in the first group out on Thursday and fired an eagle and three birdies in an opening 70 to continue his remarkable run of form.
“It’s been wild, definitely unexpected but I’m playing some good golf and really excited to be here and honoured to be playing in the Masters and just trying to keep riding the good play,” Conners said.
“I had a great day out there today, a lot of fun, and hit some quality shots and was able to get a couple under par, which was very pleasing. It’s been a bit crazy the last week but everything’s been great and I’m just trying to really enjoy the experience.”
Part of the experience was being on the first tee as honorary starters Nicklaus and Player hit tee shots on the opening hole, with Conners teeing off a few minutes later alongside Andrew Landry and Adam Long.
“It was pretty cool, I was able to stand on the back of the tee and watch them tee off and really appreciate what they have done for the game of Golf and it was a really cool experience to be part of,” Conners added.
“I just tried to soak it in and really enjoy it. And then being in the first group following them, that was pretty special as well.
“My playing partners, Adam and Andrew are both good friends, so we’re very comfortable out there and we had a great time.”
Conners was one over par after 12 holes but birdied the 13th and 14th and then holed from eight feet for an eagle on the par-five 15th before three-putting the last.
“I think – everything’s still high – I’m just having a lot of positive emotions,” he added. “I didn’t really sleep much the beginning of the week, I felt energised with positive things that have happened. This is a great place to be and I’m just really enjoying it.”
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On March 18 Reed was using the traditional teleconference with reporters to insist that his game was in better shape now than at the same time last year, a claim which was pretty debatable to begin with.
And just three days later, Reed was still out on the course during his opening round of the Valspar Championship when his wife Justine called renowned coach David Leadbetter to ask him to take a look at her husband’s malfunctioning swing.
“Justine asked me, ‘Hey, would you be prepared to just have a little look at Patrick? He’s struggling at the moment, he’s sort of lost a little bit’,” Leadbetter said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m here, sure I’ll do it. Absolutely’.”
The move did not pay immediate dividends and Reed followed an opening 77 with a 75 to miss the cut. He then failed to reach the knockout stages of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, although he did at least beat his predecessor as Masters champion, Sergio Garcia, in his final group match.
Needless to say it is hardly the sort of form which raises hopes of Reed following in the footsteps of Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods in making a successful title defence at Augusta National.
Instead the 28-year-old looks more in danger of becoming the third straight defending champion, after Danny Willett and Garcia, to miss the cut and it is no wonder he is dreading the moment when he has to hand back his green jacket.
“My least favourite moment is going to be when I have to return the jacket and I’m not allowed to have it in my closet and wear it around the house and out at places,” Reed admitted.
“It’s definitely going to give me motivation to go out and try to repeat as well as try to win multiple, because even the times I’m not actually wearing the green jacket, to be able to see it sitting in your closet or in an area where you’re always walking by just gives you motivation and kind of picks me up.
“You want to keep it around as long as you can. The only way you’re going to do that is continue winning at Augusta and continue winning the event so you can have it year in and year out.”
Reed has not won since holding off final-round charges from Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth at Augusta National last year, his best finish on the PGA Tour coming with fourth place in the US Open.
A tie for second at the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship saw him finish second in the Race to Dubai, but his third Ryder Cup appearance in Paris produced just one win in three matches and ended in defeat and recrimination.
Reed blamed Jordan Spieth for the end of their successful partnership and claimed it was “not smart” of captain Jim Furyk to leave him out of two sessions, further damaging a reputation already suffering from stories of family fall-outs and accusations – which Reed strongly denies – of cheating and even theft from his team-mates at the University of Georgia.
Those topics will no doubt resurface if Reed should defy the odds and find himself in contention at Augusta, but for now his focus is on trying to enjoy the experience of being the defending champion in a major.
“I’m going to go in with hopefully the same kind of mindset that I had last year and really just take it all in stride, even though there’s going to be more going on this year than there was last year,” Reed added.
“Last year I was able to kind of fly in under the radar at the beginning of the week. This year having all the extra activities, extra things going on, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“I honestly can’t wait for the week to start and to be able to experience all of it because being the first major and being able to come back and experience what it’s like to be on the first tee as defending champion is going to be an awesome experience.”