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The room was already packed by the time he strode in, latecomers and stragglers forced to stand awkwardly at the back.

This seldom happens. Not even the winner’s press conference on Sunday evening attracts a capacity crowd to the interview room in the Augusta National press building. Unless, of course, the winner is this guy.

That’s the Tiger Woods effect for you. Every year, for as long as most can remember, 11am on Masters Tuesday has been reserved for the media to meet with the now 48-year-old.

There’s a familiar formula to the whole thing. A few opening gambits followed by around half an hour of back and forth. And whilst he might not relish these occasions, Woods long ago mastered the art of controlling them. Seek out the interrogator in the crowd, lock eyes with them, listen intently, wax lyrical when it suits, deflect when it doesn’t. Talk without saying anything. It’s a skill that Woods’ wields as well as any club in his bag.

Things have changed, of course. When the world has seen your mugshot and read your text messages, the ability to bat away a question about your golf game is not the ‘W’ it once was. Not that the inquisitions are particularly difficult. And the more they occur, the easier they get.

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There’s almost an unspoken understanding that opportunities like this with Woods are running out. It’s a bit like a Christmas party where, having survived the mania and chaos of the main part of the evening, those who are left are just happy to be there.

And it’s strange. Very, very strange. Today’s meet was maybe the strangest so far.

Sat between portraits of Augusta founders Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones, his Sun Day Red logo embroidered onto the middle of his sweater, Woods looked and sounded like a man who was saying goodbye without actually saying goodbye.

From the first question from the floor, he spoke about things that have happened far more than things that might yet happen.

“I think I’ve been playing here for, what, 29 years now,” he said. “It was the ultimate to be able to stay in the Crow’s Nest and to watch Byron and Sam and Gene tee off on the first hole.

“It’s been a part of my life to have won here as my first major as a pro. Hugging my dad, as you saw; then a full circle in 2019 to hug my son. It has meant a lot to my family. It’s meant a lot to me.”

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He laughed as he spoke about making old guard drink milkshakes at the first Champion’s Dinner he hosted in 1998. He described how much he enjoys mentoring younger players. “I love watching them succeed,” he said. “Part of the game is we pass on the knowledge. We don’t keep it.” He attacked a question about what the game of golf means to him with seldom-seen gusto.

He discussed playing Augusta with his son, drawing guffaws from the room when he said the big-hitting Charlie’s “days of playing from the members tees are over”. He reminisced about his first visit to the course during his Stanford days.

It was an exchange high on nostalgia and sentiment, disconcertingly similar to the court held by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson following their honorary starter duties every Thursday morning of Masters week. More Memory Lane than Magnolia Lane.

It wasn’t until a question about his title prospects this week, which came deep into the conversation, that the tone changed. Old Tiger was displaced by Tiger of old.

“If everything comes together, I think I can get one more,” he said.

He reiterated the point a few questions later.

“I still think that I can. I haven’t got to that point where I don’t think I can.”

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Except he can’t, can he? Tiger is a middle-aged man burdened with an old man’s body playing a young man’s sport. He is part flesh-and-bone, part metal. He has physical limitations that his opponents don’t. He aches every day. He hardly ever plays. The wrong weather quite literally hurts him.

And he thinks he can win?

Granted, if he’s going to do it anywhere, it might well be here. Experience counts, after all. Just ask him. “An understanding of where to miss it, how to miss it and shot shape to put it there… it is helpful.”

But it doesn’t amount to a sixth Green Jacket. Not this year nor any year to come.

Whilst he laughed off a question about one day becoming an honorary starter, the reality is that Woods is only one step removed from the gig. He has become a ceremonial figure. A tired shadow of his former fist-pumping self. His days of wringing out roars around here have gone. Respectful cheers are what he has to look forward to.

And he’ll get them. Nobody, but nobody, in golf draws a crowd quite like Tiger, but that’s increasingly because of the man he was rather than the man he is.

At some point, the room will empty for the last time and somebody will have to turn out the lights. At present, that person will likely be Tiger, insisting to nobody that, if everything comes together, he can get one more.

One more.

One more.

Michael McEwan is the 2023 PPA Scotland ‘Columnist of the Year’ and ‘Writer of the Year’

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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