He struggled to make his first birdie, needing 22 holes. Then he settled down and found a little momentum. Then he was wayward again, very nearly “down the road,” needing a nifty sand save for par at his 36th hole just to survive the cut.
And then, suddenly, he was right back in the thick of the mix.
Meet Tiger Woods, the living, breathing EKG chart of the 67th Masters. He played his way from the cut line to contention in a matter of hours on the penultimate day of the tournament, but after starting four shots off the lead, he faded early on Sunday, and surprisingly, was never really a factor.
Instead of making history by collecting a third consecutive green jacket – something only Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo had attempted before him – Woods was left to venture to the famed Butler Cabin for the ceremonial purpose of slipping a blazer over the shoulders of a newly minted champion, Mike Weir.
Woods showed flashes of Augusta National magic, mostly in a third-round, bogey-free 66 that propelled him from a tie for 43rd all the way to a tie for fifth.
Suddenly, the players atop the boards all over the National couldn’t help but notice that Woods was right over their shoulder, seemingly gaining fast.
Sunday, Woods birdied the par-5 second hole, reaching the 575-yard dogleg with a driver and 3-iron, but gave two shots back at the 350-yard third, Augusta’s little par 4 that could. Knowing the winds that swirl in that corner of the course can leave a tricky wedge shot to a green that requires great precision, Woods decided to get his ball as close to the green as he could with one prodigious swing. He later said it was poor course management, a rare mental mistake by golf’s Chosen One.
Woods blocked his drive way right, the ball finishing next to a bush, and he hit his second shot left-handed, advancing it in front of the green. From there the real adventure started. He attempted to bump a wedge into the front hill, yet the ball carried too far, skidded past the flag and rolled over the back of the green. His return pitch barely made the putting surface; two putts later, he owned a double-bogey 6 and was five shots back. A three-putt bogey at the fourth pushed him over par, and he never did get back into red numbers.
“That cost me a lot right there,” he said of his miscue at No. 3. “A lot of mo (momentum), because I hit a great shot into 2 (setting up birdie). And looking back on it, I should have just played it back there (off the tee) and trusted my wedge game.”
Woods tied for 15th at 2-over 290, mostly the result of a final-round 75 (his worst final round in a major) and an opening 76 (his worst first round in a major). Only once in his last six Masters starts had he finished worse than eighth. Woods’ driving accuracy (66.1 percent) and greens in regulation (63.9 percent) were well below his normal standard at Augusta National. Woods also played the par-5 holes in 4 under – he was 63 under in 30 previous rounds – and negotiated the front nine 6 over for the week.
“I just didn’t drive it consistently enough, or shape the ball correctly enough, the entire week,” he said.
Woods walked away with his head held high, and will return to challenge another day at the major venue that is tailor-made for his game.
“It’s disappointing . . . it’s sports,” he said. “That’s why we play. We try to put ourselves in a position to win, and we’re not going to win every time.”
Reasoned Sergio Garcia: “He’s human. Not every single time are things going to go his way.”