SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
Time now for sports.
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DETROW: Tiger Woods made his much-anticipated return to the Masters this week, and Shohei Ohtani, a pitcher who can hit, is tearing it up for the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles.
NPR's Tom Goldman joins me now. Good morning, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. How are you?
DETROW: So had to get that of Los Angeles in, as the Angels have their team.
GOLDMAN: Well done. Well done.
DETROW: You know, in the buildup to the Masters this week, Augusta was partying like it was 1997 - all Tiger all the time. So how did that actual golf go?
GOLDMAN: Good news - he made the cut after two rounds.
GOLDMAN: That means he gets to play on the weekend of a major tournament for the first time since 2015. The bad news - he's not playing well. He starts Saturday 13 shots behind leader Patrick Reed, who played really well yesterday while others had a tough time with the shifting winds and the slick greens.
Now, Woods admits he has to do something really special to move way up the leaderboard and compete for a fifth green jacket at Augusta. Regardless of what he does, there's a bevy of great golfers right behind Patrick Reed, including major tournament winners like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas - all those guys have to collapse, as well. And that ain't going to happen, Scott, although rain and wind today could scramble the standings a bit.
DETROW: So what do we make of this? Was all of the comeback talk overhyped?
GOLDMAN: You know, maybe a tad. Certainly placing him as a favorite at Augusta on the strength of a couple of top five finishes in tournaments leading up to the Masters - that was excessive. But he's done so well at this tournament, and there's such a hunger to have him back the way he was. You know, it's understandable.
As long as we don't see him grimacing or doubling over after shots, there's still a lot of reason to think he can come back to a very high level. The spinal fusion surgery he had last year - his fourth back surgery - appears to have worked, and he's taking a patient approach. He says, you know, he's getting better and better. He's moving in the right direction. And if he stays healthy, he says his game will return.
DETROW: You know, it's been so long since we focused on Tiger Woods for his golf and not many other things. And a lot has changed, as the leaderboard this weekend suggests. There's this new generation of dynamic and athletic golfers in his mold who grew up watching him. So how does he fit in the landscape?
GOLDMAN: You know, that's still to be determined. It was such a weird and abrupt interruption and what even he thought was the end of his career, you know - he was still in his 30s - and to effectively leave the game. And now this happens. Usually, a player starts to fade in his 40s, and he just tippy-toes off to the Champions Tour for the old guys. But he left. This new generation came up. And now he's back with the potential to play like he used to.
So we can't really answer that question until he's back full-strength. We'll see if, for instance, you know, he's battling a Rory McIlroy or a Jordan Spieth down the back nine of a major, whether he still has it, whether he can actually scare the young guys because, of course, the intimidation factor was always a big part of Tiger Woods' dominance.
DETROW: And quick question on baseball - Angels rookie Shohei Ohtani - he's pitching. He's hitting. He's doing both well. Things are interesting in Anaheim, aren't they?
GOLDMAN: Last night, he hit a home run for the third consecutive game. No Angels rookie had hit home runs in each of his first three games - home games, that is. Ohtani is the first player since Babe Ruth, Scott - you've heard of him?...
GOLDMAN: ...Since Babe Ruth in 1930 to hit home runs in three straight games during a season where he also started as a pitcher. He's the first player since the Babe played for Boston in 1919 to start on opening day as a nonpitcher and then start as a pitcher in the first 10 games. So no pressure on the 23-year-old...
GOLDMAN: ...Only starts his career with comparisons to the most famous baseball player of all time.
DETROW: We'll see how the Ruth comparisons hold up. NPR's Tom Goldman, thank you.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.