When Tiger Woods knocked one into the water at Amen Corner for the second day in a row, he headed off toward the Nelson Bridge while his two playing partners took a more familiar route to the 12th green over the Hogan Bridge.
In a sense, those divergent paths were the perfect analogy for where Woods is at this stage of his career.
He might add another major title to his amazing record.
Maybe even two.
But he’s not catching Jack Nicklaus, and his days of dominating on the PGA Tour are done.
He’s going one way. The kids are going another.
Golf, like all sports, belongs to the youth.
With an exception or two, they’ll be the ones battling for the green jacket at Augusta National this weekend. Patrick Reed. Rory McIlroy. Jordan Spieth. Justin Thomas. Rickie Fowler. All members of the 20-something club.
As Stephen Colbert once joked in his previous job as a fake talk show host, “Folks, I don’t trust children. They’re here to replace us.”
Indeed, they are.
For all the warranted excitement over Woods’ remarkable comeback from back fusion surgery — and make no mistake, no one gets the patrons going like Tiger — he’ll head to Saturday a daunting 13 shots behind the front-running Reed.
The largest 36-hole comeback at the Masters was Jack Burke Jr. rallying from eight shots down to beat Ken Venturi in 1956, and only because the amateur soared to an 80 on the final day.
Woods has no shot of chasing down a star-packed leaderboard that includes eight major winners among the top 14 players, not to mention the guy considered the best without a major title (Fowler) and another potential star in the making (Reed).
The average age of the top 14 players is 32 years old — a decade younger than Woods.
Six of them are under 30.
Sure, there are a few outliers in the group, including a pair of 41-year-olds, Henrik Stenson and Charley Hoffman. There will always be a place for those with experience — especially at a course such as Augusta National.
Sixty-year-old Bernhard Langer made the cut. Ditto for 58-year-old Fred Couples.
While it hasn’t shown this week, the Masters will likely be Woods’ best shot at winning another major championship, something he hasn’t done since hobbling to a playoff victory at the 2008 U.S. Open.
But he even on a course that he clearly knows so well, winning four green jackets, finishing in the top 10 nine other times and never missing the cut at a professional, Woods looked largely overmatched in the first two rounds. After opening with a 73 — and boldly proclaiming that he was right in the mix of things — he struggled to a 3-over 75 Friday.
That matched the second-worst score on his Masters record. The only other time he went higher was a 76 in the opening round of the 2003 tournament.
The bravado was all gone.
“I need help. I’m not in control of my own destiny,” he moaned. “I’m so far back.”
Since 1900, only 18 players have won a major championship at age 42 and older. The only member of that group to win twice is Julius Boros, who was 43 when he captured the 1963 U.S. Open and, at age 48, became the oldest major champion with his victory at the 1968 PGA Championship.
Woods has been stuck on 14 major titles for nearly a decade.
Even though his health is as good as it’s been in years — and that’s certainly good for the game — he is now facing a staggering array of young guns who barely remember a time when Woods was the man to beat on the PGA Tour.
They certainly aren’t the least bit intimidated by him.
In Augusta, Woods played the first two rounds with 34-year-old Aussie Marc Leishman and 27-year-old Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who is easily recognized by his thick beard and long, flowing hair.
Even with the biggest galleries on the course following them around — and pleading over and over again, “You can do it, Tiger!” — they outshot Woods both days.
They certainly saw no reason to fear Woods when he made a mess of the fifth hole, pushing his tee shot into the trees right of the fairway and knocking his second shot into the thick brush left of the green. He struggled just to find the ball. There was no chance of getting it out.
Woods was forced to take an unplayable lie , leading to a double-bogey that pretty much left him scrambling the rest of the day.
Before the Masters even began, Woods conceded that most of his best days are behind him. There’s no more talk of chasing down Nicklaus. He seems content just being able to play without pain, for however long that lasts.
“Six months ago, I didn’t know if I was going to play again,” Woods said. “It’s incredible. I’m just so thankful to have this opportunity to be able to play golf again. Playing at a championship level, playing at a Tour level, is such a bonus. I wanted to play golf again. It’s something I’ve done virtually my whole life. I missed it.”
We missed him, too.
And if this is as good as it gets, that’s good enough.