Tiger Woods once again defies the odds due to mental toughness

Augusta, GA – You can love, love, hate, or even hate Tiger Woods.

But he, as a golfer, deserves your respect.

Woods has always been a complicated person. He has displayed, at times, the arrogance and isolation that portrayed him as unapproachable, unarguable and hard to embrace. Of course, from his personal life there was an infidelity scandal that drove many people away.

But golfer Woods has had a lot going for it since he introduced himself to the world 25 years ago this week with a record-breaking victory, which changed the sport with his 1997 Masters win—his first five green jackets—and every one of those things have been fantastic.

Woods’s God-given talent is of course another talent. You know about the 82nd PGA Tour records win and 15 major tournament victories, behind only Jack Nicklaus’ 18 victories. These are all written in the record books.

You also know all of the multiple back and knee surgeries that Woods has come back from in his career, most recently his impressive return to competitive golf after his horrific car accident outside Los Angeles less than 14 months ago. He left his right leg severely disfigured and Woods said doctors were considering amputation. These are all well documented.

What is not written in the ledgers or hospital records is Woods’ internal fortitude, his mental strength.

I never would have thought there was even a remote possibility that Woods would play in this Masters tournament – mostly because walking is so tough around the undulating emerald grass at the Augusta National.

Tiger Woods lines up a hit.
Tiger Woods lines up a hit.

I always thought that Woods’ best first chance to play golf again would be the British Open in St Andrews, where the terrain is as flat as a basketball court and where he won twice.

However, here it is, this week, defying the odds.

After opening his eye 1-under 71 in the first round, Woods spent the first five holes of the second round on Friday playing himself to the wrong side of the bogey four-stroke line.

He’s gone from 1 under and a legitimate competitor to 3 over with four bogeys on his first five holes.

Doesn’t look good. Then we saw what may be Woods’ greatest trait on the golf course: his unwavering desire to grind.

Surprised by the poor start, Woods showed an iron chin and lunged back at one point, not only making the cut but at least giving himself a chance to chase down leader Scotty Scheffler, who’s tracking him with nine shots, into the next 36 holes.

“Hey, I made the cut,” Woods said. “I have a chance to go to the weekend. I hope to have one of those lightbulb moments and turn it on at the weekend and get it done. I’ve seen guys do it with the chance of going ninth. If I’m five or six going back nine, I can Anything happens. I need to get myself there. This is the key. I need to get myself there.

Tiger Woods kicks off on the twelfth hole.
Tiger Woods kicks off on the twelfth hole.
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“[Saturday] It will be a great day. I need to go out there and deal with my work and get into the red and have a chance to go to that nine on Sunday.”

For all his incredible physical talents, Woods’ mind has always been the most underappreciated weapon on the golf course. He never gave up. That’s why I’ve always thought his greatest, most impressive, and most breakable record was the 142 straight cut he made from 1998 to 2003.

This type of grinding sets woods better than anything else. And that sort of grind was on display front and center around Augusta on Friday.

Tiger Woods waves to the crowd.
Tiger Woods waves to the crowd.
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Woods wiggled, until he fell, but kept getting up, refusing to let the dream die.

“I felt good about the way I fought back,” Woods said. “I could have easily kicked myself out of the tournament, but I kept myself in it. I put myself back in the ball game. It was a good fight.”

Woods didn’t lose many battles on the golf course.

“He’s the best competitor I’ve ever seen,” said American Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson.

To put Woods’ great week in perspective, consider the big names not playing this weekend as Woods continues his relentless pursuit of another jacket: Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Zander Shaveli and Jordan Spieth all missed the cut.

“I’m surprised he’s been able to come back and play for the Masters, but if there was one person I knew I would say he could do it would be him,” said Stuart Sinek.

“I can give you the 25 he got and there is still more,” Will Zalatores said. “Obviously he’s won here five times. He has 15 majors. He’s won 82 times. He’s the greatest of all time. You could argue that’s probably his best achievement.”

I don’t think there is any argument there.