Tiger Woods Returns To Masters Tournament

Audie Cornish talks with Tom Goldman about this year's Masters golf tournament, and the return of Tiger Woods to the top of the leader board.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. And the weather is warming up and so is the golf at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia. Day two of golf's first major tournament of the year has some familiar names near the top of the leaderboard. Joining me is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman to talk more about it. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So what's the big news from round two?

GOLDMAN: Well, let's talk about the positive stuff first, and then we'll talk about Tiger Woods.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: That's what you call the big news, OK.

GOLDMAN: How's that for foreshadowing? On the positive side, Fred Couples is five under, leading the tournament for much of the day. And he's a fan favorite with the laid-back personality and the silky swing. He's 52 years old. He won a couple of weeks ago on the Champions Tour. That's for the old codgers, 50 years up. And he called today's round magical. You know, he's one of those golfers, no matter how he's been playing elsewhere or how balky his back has been - and he's always had kind of a bad back - he seems to summon great performances at Augusta.

He finished third in 2006. He finished sixth just two years ago. And now halfway through the tournament, he's putting on a show again. Also, today, Spaniard Sergio Garcia was four under and right up there on the leaderboard. There was a time, Audie, when Sergio Garcia was called the best player never to win a major. Well, he still hasn't won a major, and in recent years, he's lost the best player tag. But he's right up in the hunt, too, going into the third round on Saturday.

CORNISH: Now, going into the tournament, we heard a lot about Tiger Woods and also folks like Rory McIlroy, I mean, who seemed to be peaking at the right time. How are they doing?

GOLDMAN: Right. Well, the kid, Rory McIlroy, 22 years old, is doing just fine. He shot three under par today and was just behind the leaders. Phil Mickelson, who is included in that group with Tiger and Rory, he's a three-time Masters winner. He had a very good round on Friday, four under, within a few strokes of the lead. He ground his way through a tough first round on Thursday, and he still got a good score. If this ends well for Mickelson, he says he'll think back to that first round on Thursday.

And then there's Tiger. There's a ton of expectation after he finally won a tour event two weeks ago, but he's been in a lot of trouble throughout the day: missing lots of putts, his swing was off, hitting bad shots. And as Friday went on, Tiger's scores started to add up, and he was getting precariously close to the cut line - the line where it's decided who plays over the weekend and who goes home - so a rough day.

CORNISH: His win in Florida last month totally rekindled talk of his tying and passing Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major tournament victories. Now, I think Tiger has been at 14 since 2008, 14 victories.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

CORNISH: So do you really think he can pull it off?

GOLDMAN: That's the $64,000 question. His win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, as you mentioned, prompted a lot of people to say he's back and ready to resume the chase. But, you know, saying he's back is a relative thing. He'll never be back on the golf throne the way he was. And one big reason is he no longer intimidates the rest of the field the way he once did. So if he does do it, he's going to have to grind out those last five majors. He's only 36. He's healthy. But as today indicates, there will not be a magic corner that he turns. It will be a lot of hard work for him.

CORNISH: And we're used to seeing such gorgeous images of the Augusta National Golf course. But the weather has actually been pretty brutal. So what kind of impact has...

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...that had on the tournament?

GOLDMAN: Well, it has been wet and cold. Friday, in fact, started chilly and windy, and it changed during the second round. The wet course and especially the wet greens have bunched the field together, because more players feel confident of attacking the normally slick greens because the ball is going to stick on the green better. But with the conditions drying out, the course and the greens will get harder and slicker. The greens at the Masters are notoriously difficult and slippery. And if they return to that state, it should separate the field more. Guys who keep their drives in the fairway, giving them a better chance to hit accurate shots to the greens will benefit.

CORNISH: Tom, thanks for keeping an eye on it for us.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

CORNISH: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

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