Augusta, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods turned the weekend into recreational theater at Augusta National, charging up the leaderboard with one fearless drive, one feathered iron, one nervous putt all at once.
Not now. Maybe never again.
The magic that the five-time Masters champion so easily summoned for so long was nowhere to be found during another laborious four-hour trip down Georgia Pines on Saturday. His 6-over 78 marked his worst performance in the tournament in 93 career rounds leaving him at 7-overs.
Growing a limp off his surgically repaired right leg with each deliberate, cautious step, the 46-year-old slid even further down the leaderboard, whatever the chance — though unlikely — of being a factor on Sunday afternoon. Came.
There was no familiar fee in early April. The only reality is that 14 months away from a serious car accident that threatened to end his career, Woods can still play golf. He can’t do it – at least not at the moment – at the level necessary to compete in a field consisting of young players, many who have grown up idolizing him but have long stood in awe of him.
After a gritty back-nine push on Friday that helped him stay on the edge of contention, Woods moved to the first tee on Saturday, two hours ahead of the leaders. Looking to send a jolt through the gallery that stood five-deep in places hoping for a glimpse and a chance to roar, Woods instead spent most of the afternoon quietly staring at the hole or its putter—or both.
He placed a par-4 from 54 feet first for a bogey, a sign of things to come. Par-4 on the fifth, he swung his club in disgust when his approach shifted to the right, a far left from the hole position in the back left. From 60 feet above a ridge his lag effort was quite small. His 9-foot putt rolled 3 feet behind him and his returner for the bogie hit the hole and bounced. It was Woods’ first four-putt at the Masters – ever.
Things never really got better. Another three-putt followed one afternoon where nothing really felt right. And it wasn’t just his feet. It was his back. his hands. His seat Every thing
Worse, it seemed there was no way to compensate. He tinkered with, the kind of quest usually reserved for the practice range, not the middle of a major.
“The number of puts I had, you’d think I figured it out somewhere along the line, but it didn’t,” he said.
As Woods slowly approached the 18th fairway, leader Scotty Scheffler—just 25 and the world’s top-ranked golfer—was doing at the Masters what Woods has done so many times over the past quarter-century: enforcing his will. On courses and tournaments.
“We all wish we had a window of two, three months when it warms up, and hopefully the big companies will fall somewhere in that window,” Woods said. “We take care of it in those windows. Looks like Scotty is in that window right now.”
A window that is currently closed to Woods. While it would be easy to call his appearance in Northeast Georgia this weekend just a win, considering last fall whether he’ll ever play competitively, Woods doesn’t have a good story in it. He has no interest in becoming a ceremonial field filler.
His steely 1-under 71 was only encouraging him during the first round on Thursday. After a shaky performance of front-nine 39 on Friday, he scored 74 and came down the cutline with ease.
He opened on Saturday with another sloppy 39 in the front. And for a few fleeting minutes shortly after his turn, it appeared that another rally was in preparation.
A crisp iron to 14 feet at No. 12 and a two-strip birdie on par 5-13th provided a spark that never became a flame. He bogeyed the 16th and 17th and his approach went to the gallery to reach the 18th from the hill. His bump-and-run took hold of the slope and kept rolling, Woods following him long before coming to a stop about 60 feet from the pin.
Three more putts and his worst run in Augusta was finally over. His 78 was one more than the 77 put together in the third round of his first visit to Augusta in 1995.
He was an amateur at the time, a 19-year-old phenomenon. Two years later, he was a champion. More than two decades later, he is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest in the history of his sport. He is also a middle-aged father of two children trying to reclaim something far more elusive than it was before.
“Every day is a challenge,” he said. “Every day presents its own set of challenges for all of us. I get up and start the fight all over again.”
For more AP Masters coverage: