2004 Masters: Tiger Woods is a non-factor again at the Masters

Augusta, Ga. | Waiting at Augusta National’s 15th tee Sunday, Tiger Woods found himself in a disconcertingly unusual situation.

There were no throngs of fans. Even though Woods had just scored back-to-back birdies, including a kick-in at the 14th, all the action that meant anything was happening well behind him. For the first time since 1999, when he closed with 75 and tied for 18th, Woods wasn’t a factor at the Masters.

Instead, he and Jose Maria Olazabal, who also had fallen out of contention, amused themselves by analyzing the leaderboard behind them, next to the 10th green.

“Ollie and I were saying, the way the day had been going for both of us – up and down, nothing positive – we could just go right from 14 green to 18 tee, tee off there and be down I-20 in a heartbeat,” said Woods.

When the U.S. Open commences June 17 at Shinnecock Hills, Woods will have endured two years without winning a major championship, 24 months full of critiques and analysis.

Asked if he was growing annoyed with all the probing by so-called experts, Woods replied tersely: “What do you think?”

Woods has become increasingly defensive when quizzed about his swing. And increasingly impatient with suggestions that he misses the tutelage of Butch Harmon.

“If you watch me hit balls, I’m not that far off,” Woods said after posting scores of 75-69-75-71 for a 2-over-par total of 290 and a tie for 22nd. “And I’m hitting it well on the golf course. I just hit a couple of bad shots on this golf course.”

Woods opened Round 1 with a front-nine 40, the same score he posted in 1997 en route to his first of three Masters victories and the tournament scoring record of 270. Different year, different story.

“I’m disappointed because I didn’t win,” he said. “That’s obviously the ultimate goal. I felt like I hit the ball well enough to do it, but I just didn’t make any putts.”

He had his chances. Woods hit 72.2 percent of the National’s treacherous greens in regulation (49 of 72, tied for sixth in the field and only four fewer than category leader – and tournament winner – Phil Mickelson). But Woods’ 123 putts left him tied for 35th in that statistic (Mickelson was T-23 with 117). Woods had only one three-putt in 72 holes, but not enough one-putts.

Woods set the tone early and often. He bogeyed the opening hole three times, including Sunday, when he vomited after finishing No. 1. Woods said he “ate something that didn’t agree with me” before warming up.

“I felt kind of sick on the range and got progressively worse,” he said. “On the first green I had to lighten the load a little bit.”

He was consistently inconsistent. Five of his 15 birdies came on the heels of bogeys (and one double bogey). His only decent run in red numbers came in Round 2, when he made three birdies in a five-hole stretch beginning at No. 13.

The day after his latest major disappointment, Woods was slated to report to Fort Bragg, N.C., for a weeklong stint of special operations training (Forecaddie, March 27).

Anything to turn the tide.

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