AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – Masters patrons filled every nook and cranny around the 18th green, awaiting the appearance of the man in red.
A scene that Tiger Woods is known for on so many Sundays at Augusta National, but this one was different.
It wasn’t even 3 a.m. on a hot, sunny afternoon in eastern Georgia. On the adjacent first hole, leader Scotty Scheffler and nearest chaser Cameron Smith entered the final group.
Leaning and limping noticeably, Woods climbed the deceptively steep hill, looming green, as fans slowly climbed to their feet, the building roaring as they told a weekend’s fairy tale. Otherwise saluted a remarkable comeback.
“Way to hang in there, Tiger!” A man standing behind in the crowd groaned.
From a strictly golf standpoint, it was hardly Woods that so many remembered. The person who has won five green jackets was the last of them three years ago. The man who will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game, even if he never takes a second shot. (Don’t worry, it’s not done.)
This is Woods, hobby on a rebuilding right foot that he could have lost in that horrific car accident 14 months ago, closing with back-to-back 78s which were the worst scores of his Masters career.
He even had to take a swing with his left hand after hitting his ball on a pine straw behind the green, right next to an azalea on the 13th.
On Thursday, when Woods returned to competitive golf for the first time in more than 500 days, his body ran out of steam after an electrifying 71.
He scored 74 on Friday, which ensured that he would make it to the Masters for the 22nd consecutive time.
There was nothing left in the tank for the weekend.
Still, it was a gratifying experience, one that Woods clearly didn’t regret putting himself on, even if he didn’t come close to winning a record-tying sixth green jacket.
“This tournament means a lot to me and my family,” Woods said. “This is where all the great champions have ever played. They have walked these grounds.”
That Woods was able to walk again—for four days, no less—was a feat in itself.
After her wreck in February 2021, doctors told Wood that her broken right leg might have to be amputated. They managed to save it, but he remained confined to a hospital bed for three months. He’s got screws and rods still holding the bones in place.
Woods ran Augusta National with a lameness that became more and more noticeable, sometimes using a club as a walking stick to help him move around.
Most to say, he couldn’t fully bend over to read puts on Augusta’s tricky greens, which may explain why his stellar touch with the short stick leaves him on weekends.
But barring all the tournaments he won—specifically those 15 major championships—it felt like his greatest achievement in golf.
“To not win an event, yes. Yes, without a doubt,’ Woods said. “I don’t think people really understand. People close to me understand. He has seen it. Some of the players close to me have seen it and have seen some pictures and things that I have had to endure. They probably appreciate it more than anyone else because they know what it takes to do it at this stage.”
Everyone knows how much Woods still means to the sport, even though he is certainly in the final stages of his career at age 46.
“You just work so hard for that,” said Harold Warner III, who joined Woods and Cameron Champ to make it the first Masters with three Black players. “Obviously, he’s great for the game. If he’s around, we’re going to make a lot of money.”
Woods gave no indication of his future plans, but it is clear he wants to continue playing. The next major is the PGA Championship, scheduled for May 19-22 in Southern Hills.
“See you on the street,” shouted his caddy, Joe Lakawa, to media members gathered outside the clubhouse, waiting to speak to his boss.
Woods offered his own tantalizing assessment of what happens next, without revealing any real details.
“We’re excited about the possibilities of the future, about training, about getting into that gym and doing some other things to strengthen our leg that we couldn’t because to fix it and Need more time,” he said. “I think it will take a few more days to recover after that, but we’ll be back after that.”
As Woods spoke, a roar sounded like it was coming from downstairs in Amen’s Corner.
Woods loves those roars. He had not heard from him since his victory in 2019. The following year, the tournament was played in November with no fans due to the pandemic. Last year, of course, playing a golf tournament was the furthest thing on Woods’ mind.
“Quite exciting. It’s inspiring,” he said. “It’s fun to hear the record.”
Woods hopes to make a few more of them before he does.
This Sunday, he had to be content with cheers for the last time after he tapped for a 13-over 301 in a short put on the 18th hole – his worst Masters performance as a professional by eight strokes.
The crowd around 18 began to disperse as Woods took off his hat and headed for the clubhouse.
It was time to look at the players who actually got a chance to capture the green jacket.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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