For Tiger, a special award and a solid round

© Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

AUGUSTA, Ga. — This was another award for Tiger Woods. Yet not just another award. He had won Opens on both sides of the Atlantic, won Masters, been voted Player of the Year. But the trophy he was given Wednesday night was as much for courage and fortune as it was for success.

The Ben Hogan Award is presented annually by the Golf Writers Association of America to a player who has continued to remain active in the game despite a physical handicap or serious illness.

Hogan was so severely injured when a bus crashed into his car in 1949 there was doubt he would play again. Unable to walk without pain, he would return to win three of his four U.S. Open championships.

For Tiger, it was a back problem that in 2017 made him question whether he would be able swing a club. “Golf was not in my near future,” he said, “or my distant future.”

He underwent surgery, fusion, won a tournament at the end of 2018 and Thursday in the first round of the 2019 Masters put himself on the leader board.

He probably won’t get a fifth Masters title. His 2-under-par 70 was four shots behind two of hottest players since last summer, Brooks Koepka and Bryson de Chambeau, each of whom had a 6-under-par 66. Still, at age 43, to be where he hasn’t been for a while at Augusta was particularly satisfying.

“I feel very good,” said Woods. “I feel like I played well today and I controlled my golf ball all day. I’ve shot this number and four coats, so hopefully I can do it again.”

He meant four green jackets, the attire traditionally presented to the Masters winner each year. Hoping will not work, however, Not only is he four off the lead, but names such as Phil Mickelson, who shot 67, and Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson, both 68, are among those ahead of him.

Still, having Tiger in the mix, especially at the Masters, where in 1997, eight months a pro, he thundered into the game’s history with that overwhelming victory, just makes things that much more interesting.

Especially after the confirmation of how close he was to being forced to give up playing the game. It was Nick Faldo, a two-time Masters winner who in effect broke the story after the Masters champions dinner in April 2017.

“I know,” Faldo had told The Dan Patrick Show, “he whispered to another Masters champion two Masters dinners ago, ‘I’m done. I won’t play golf again.’“

Over the years, spurred on by a father who insisted he would overshadow international statesmen and religious leaders, Tiger became insular and arrogant. He became impatient with interviewers, private in his dealings.

He is more gracious since the return, acting like someone who didn’t know what he had until he lost it. Wednesday night, accepting the Hogan Award, his words were poignant. The great golfer evolved into the good guy.

“It meant a lot to me to receive this award after its namesake,” Woods said. “What Mr. Hogan went through and what he did and what he was able to accomplish post-(accident), just to have my name on a list of recipients like this is very special.”

Those recipients of a trophy that has been given since 1954 include Dwight Eisenhower, Jose Maria Olazabal, Tom Watson, cancer victim Jarrod Lyle and Eric Compton, who plays the PGA Tour after two heart transplants.

Nobody sets out to win the Hogan Award, but to earn it gains one respect; a career isn’t necessarily ended by a stroke of misfortune.

“It was not a fun time and a tough couple years there,” Woods said. “But I was able to start to walk again, I was able to participate in life, I was able to be around my kids again and go to their games, go to their practices, take them to school again. These are all things I couldn’t do for a very long time.”

What he did Thursday was play golf much the way he did when young and healthy.