As the Augusta crowds fervour over Tiger Woods ebbed and flowed, Ian Poulter otherwise known as some guy in a visor was also doing brilliant things
Pampas, the 7th hole, sits in the heart of Augusta National. From the back of the green there, beneath the big leaderboard, one can see some of what is going on on all of the four holes that surround it: the 17th away to the left, the 3rd, 2nd and 8th fanning out uphill to the right. It is centre stage. It was 2.50pm when Tiger Woods walked on to the fairway there, the breeze was still and the light bright, the sun out from between the clouds. Woods had flushed his drive right down the middle, 300-and-some yards, and had another 150 or so to go. He pulled out his wedge and set himself over the ball.
The crowd were packed several rows deep either side, thicker still around the green, and at the back everyone was bobbing and weaving to try to find a clean line of sight between everyone elses heads, necks and shoulders. Some were popping up on tip-toes, others searching for a scrap of higher ground, a hump, a ridge, a root, anything that might give them a precious extra inch and a fleeting glimpse of Woods.
He swung the club, the ball rose high and disappeared from view in the sky. A split-second later, a tremendous roar broke over the course, so loud that down the fairway everyone started to shout at each other. Did it go in? It went in! It went in!
It did not, quite. It fetched up a foot shy, so Woods needed to tap in for birdie. He had only just made another, the first of his round, with a putt from 18ft at the par-three 6th. So the approach made it two back-to-back. And as he came walking up the 7th fairway his energy crackled around the course, almost palpable, everyone captivated by that magnetic intensity that draws the attention irresistibly towards him. There is nothing quite like it in this sport or any other. Woods climbed on to the green like a man who had come to plant his flag on a mountain and made the tap-in to go to seven under.
Now whos that hes playing with? one of the spectators asked of his mate, who was watching it all through a pair binoculars. Dunno, his friend said. Some guy in a visor.
Which maybe was not quite how Ian Poulter imagined it would be when he said a decade ago: I havent played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger. They did not do an awful lot of talking but then they have never seemed to have a lot to say to each other, or not to each others faces anyway. Woods old coach Hank Haney wrote in his book about the one time the three of them were all travelling in Woods private jet, and Woods sent him a message saying: Can you believe this dick mooched a ride on my plane?
Poulter, to be fair to him, was not a passenger this time around, since he was playing brilliantly well himself although, since Woods was wearing a lilac top and Poulter lilac trousers, he looked a bit as if he had mooched Tigers strides or come dressed as his sidekick. They both made birdies on the par-five 8th, which made it three in a row for Woods. He played it near perfectly until he missed an eagle putt from 11ft. Poulter, on the other hand, scrambled out from the fairway bunker. Poulter was buoyed by the recovery and made a second birdie at the 8th, where Woods had to scramble up and down after he flared his drive wide right into the trees.
That missed eagle putt seemed to check Woods progress a moment and for a while the atmosphere settled back down. He went through the turn and around Amen Corner in level par, struggling all the while with his wayward shots off the tee. He was right into the trees at the 11th. Another golfer might have snapped at that but Woods steeled himself and saved par with a superb shot into the heart of the green. Then, when left into the second cut at the 13th, he even managed to convert it into a birdie. And there it was again, that irresistible feeling, Woods was running hot again.
Adrenaline flowing, he thundered his drive some 310 yards right down the middle of the 15th and recovered from a hot approach with a deft little chip that left him a two-foot putt for one birdie, and at the 16th he made one from 7ft for another. That took him to 11 under, and a momentary share of the lead. Poulter, back in his slipstream, was not so far behind. He picked up a birdie at the 15th, too, and was a puff of wind away from another when his putt rolled round the lip at the 17th. He finished up nine under, two shots back from Woods.
Woods could not have been happier with it. His only worry now is that everything will be set up a little differently on Sunday, when play will start early off two separate tees and be in threesomes, so that they can get everything done before the forecast thunderstorms come.
It doesnt feel like Augusta National, Woods said. Well, the format may be a little different from how they usually do things around here but, if nothing else, the roars will be pretty familiar to him, because they will sound exactly the same as they did in 1997 and every other year Woods won here. It is going to be some finish.
If you enjoyed our content, we'd really appreciate some "love" with a share or two.
And ... Don't forget to have fun!