Tiger Woods radiates calm as the Masters frenzy goes on all around

Larry got the call 12 years ago.

Right after that he left New York and set out on the road. He has been travelling the United States ever since, "spreading the good news and preaching hard against sin". He says he goes "wherever the good Lord would use me", whether that is at "car shows, horse shows, boat shows, dog races, parades, festivals, on street corners or in prisons". And, for one week a year, every year, he believes the Lord would use him at the gates of Augusta National. He stands out in the sun every day, from 7am to 7pm, with dust swirling around his feet and sweat running down his T-shirt, which reads "Repent or Perish".

Larry, 53, first came to Augusta in 2011. He does not know much about golf and does not care to learn. He just figured that any community that idolised Tiger Woods was in need of a little help. He carries a six-foot tall placard that says "FORNICATION IS A SIN". One time, Larry says with a smile, Woods himself walked by. "I told him that Jesus would wash away his sins. That he could find peace and redemption in the Bible. I was so happy to able to preach to him." By "preach to him" what Larry means is that he shouted from across the street. Which must have made a change from the cries of "Get in the hole!", "Great shot!" and "Go Tiger!" that accompany Woods everywhere else he goes in Augusta.

The truth is this was a poor day to be preaching. Fire and brimstone is a hard sell on the Wednesday of the Masters. It is the most relaxed day, with pre-tournament jitters damped down by the hit-and-giggle Par 3 competition. Woods was not taking part but he stopped at the 16th during his practice round to try his hand at skipping a couple of shots across the water on to the green.

That was early in the morning. Woods was out at 8.10am. The gates had opened only 10 minutes earlier and the rest of the course was eerily quiet. But wherever Woods went, his flock gathered – thousands of folk in plaid and pastel, jockeying each other as they waddled after the path of his ball, doing their best to obey the club rule that commands them not to run in their rush to get a good position for his next shot. Stand by the clubhouse and close the eyes and one could still track his progress by the sound of their roars.

For the faithful, Woods is still the man to follow. And while the field here is too strong to allow the Masters to become a 72-hole exhibition of his brilliance, the build-up, at least, has been geared around him and the prospect of his winning a 15th major. Back in Britain the media may be focused on Rory McIlroy but in Augusta nothing he has done so far this week has earned him more attention, or approval, than his deferential doff of the cap to Woods: "If I saw myself as a rival to Tiger, I wouldn't be doing him much justice."

Or at least nothing had until he took to the Par 3 course with Caroline Wozniacki as his caddie. McIlroy played a slap-happy round with Graeme McDowell, whose wife Kristin Stape was carrying his clubs, and another Northern Irishman, Alan Dunbar, who qualified by winning the Amateur Championship last year. Someone called out "Are your caddies always that good looking?" and McDowell shot back, "I wish. She's a lot better looking than my regular caddie." He thought for a moment. "Though that ain't saying much."

They stopped for photos on the 5th and had a long natter with Condoleezza Rice at the tee on the 6th. Wozniacki, blond hair bursting from her cap, bright white smile setting off her boiler suit, took a shot off the tee at the 9th and clumped it into the water. "Hope she's better at something else, Rory!" The chump who shouted that was not talking about tennis. He stopped leering when told she used to be the World No1.

After McIlroy walked off the course at the Honda Classic earlier this year he said he felt he needed to "rediscover his enjoyment" of the game. He seemed to have found it again on Wednesday. It is a sentiment Woods shares. His former coach, Hank Haney, wrote about how Woods was at his most "intense and attentive" in the week running up to a major. Haney called them "Tiger Days". They began at 6am and included two hours of gym work, three hours of hitting, three hours of putting, an hour of short-game work and as many as 18 holes of practice. In that mood Woods could be sharp and abrasive with the fans, the press and his fellow players.

Woods agrees that he has been "more comfortable" at the Masters this week. He says it is all about "the balance" and "equilibrium" he has brought to his life, juggling his career and his family. Larry the preacher does not know it and would not like it if he did, but Woods' language this week has had little echoes of the Buddhist faith he was brought up with by his mother, Tida.

Back in 2010, when Woods was making his public mea culpa, he explained that "I actively practised my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years". He said then he was going to go back to the religion he was raised with – other, that is, than the ritual of practice, which Haney once said was Woods' own "church". Certainly he is radiating a meditative calm at the 2013 Masters. It feels as if Larry has arrived too late. Woods has already found his peace. Now he needs the redemption to go with it.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Andy Bull at Augusta, for The Guardian on Thursday 11th April 2013 00.13 Europe/London

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image: © Keith Allison