Tom Sorensen

Spieth eyeing Tiger’s throne

Deputies lead the procession to the first tee Thursday afternoon. They’re followed by security. Security is followed by Tiger Woods, who is 111th this week in the world golf rankings.

“That’s so cool,” a man says. “I was just one foot from Tiger.”

It is cool. After an absence from meaningful golf for more than two months, he returned to the Masters.

Woods was all right Thursday. His problematic back and problematic short game were fine. He shanked some drives and struggled with his putter. He hit some nice scrambling shots and nailed a fade so beautifully you wanted to drop to one knee.

Woods finished 1-over-par 73. He’s in a 13-way tie for 41st and nine shots behind the leader, Jordan Spieth.

“You know, I’m still in it,” Woods says. “I’m only 9 back. And we have a long way to go. And we don’t know what the Masters is going to do, what they’re going to do with the greens or the golf course. You know how they like to change things every now and then.”

Spieth is 21 years old. The last 21-year-old to win the Masters, and the only 21-year-old to win the Masters, is Woods.

“I won the Masters when Jordan was still in diapers,” says Woods, 39.

Only Spieth’s parents would know; the kid was almost 4.

If you watched the 21-year-old and the former 21-year-old you could conclude that the younger man is ascending and the older man is attempting to hang on.

On No. 9, Woods did a drive and drop. Unhappy with the shot, he dropped his driver to the ground. Later on 9 we saw Woods angrily turn around and swing his club with one hand. After hitting a bunker on 10, he yelled and stalked off to his left.

It’s true that Woods has appeared happy all week. So many writers and commentators have written and talked about the new happy Tiger that I thought he had changed his name to The New Happy Tiger Woods.

But if your driver is inconsistent and your putter betrays you, how happy should you be?

Woods walked to the tee on No. 7 without emotion and slammed a 285-yard drive, which at that juncture was his longest of the afternoon. The ball landed behind a narrow tree.

If you looked at Woods from the green, you would think he was hiding behind the tree. He was 160 yards from the pin, and when he looked at it he saw wood.

And then he became Tiger again. He uncorked one of those shots that he has been hitting since Spieth was or was not in diapers. He hit a line drive of a fade to the left of the tree and was so taken with the promise of the shot that he took three quick steps forward to get a better view. The ball landed 21 feet from the pin.

When Woods’ first round since Feb. 4 ended, fans reacted the way they usually do, with cheers and hoots and warm applause. He acknowledged them with a tip of his cap and a smile.

Despite the response, some of us would prefer that Woods stay home. We want to remember him when he ruled his world, and we’d like to see his splendid legacy preserved behind thick glass or hung on a wall so we can sit back and admire the thing.

But it’s his legacy. And even if his time has ended, don’t you want to see him go down swinging?

Sorensen: 704-358-5119;; Twitter: @tomsorensen