Augusta – Tiger Woods strode to the No. 1 tee at Augusta National in his Sunday red. But his rusty golf game couldn’t match his championship look in the 74th Masters.
It’s never a good sign when you begin your day here walking up the No. 9 fairway. But that’s what Woods did after he yanked his opening tee shot so far left the pine trees up that side on No. 1 could not contain it.
Woods made bogey there, carded his third bogey in a row on No. 4 and added another plus-one on No. 5. In fact, he didn’t hit a green in regulation until he reached the par-3 sixth hole and then he couldn’t do anything with it.
So much for the “Tiger Intimidation Factor.” A third of the way into his final round Woods had essentially shot his way out of the tournament.
“As the week went on I hit the ball worse,” said Woods, who was playing his first competitive round in a 144 days. “I wasn’t very good. I had another terrible warm-up. I didn’t have it and it was pretty evident. I hit a hook on 1, a pop-up on 2, a low quacker on 5. It was a tough day.”
But as always is the case when Woods tees it up here, you can never count him out. And he proceeded to show why on the next three holes.
Woods started a charge with an unlikely eagle on the par-4 seventh hole, cutting in an 8-iron approach that used the slope of the green to roll into the cup to the blasting roar of shoulder-to-shoulder gallery there. He followed up that with birdies on 8 and 9.
Despite all his early troubles Woods had gone out in 35, made the turn three strokes out of the lead and had a cheering throng following his every step. But he still wasn’t feeling good about his chances.
“I was trying to get back to even par [for the day] at the turn and I was one better,” Woods said. “But I was still way back and still making mistakes out there. I had a two-way miss going today. I was very uneasy on every shot I hit.”
He still made it interesting though.
Woods had a brief misstep negotiating Amen Corner. He drove his tee shot into the trees on the right and left it in the man-made forest when his second shot caught one of the pines. He hit a gigantic, looping third shot out of the pine grove to six feet but missed the putt on what would have been an incredible par save.
And the momentum of a birdie on 13 was quickly sapped with a bogey on the hump-backed 14th green.
Still, Woods would not fade away entirely. He made eagle at the generous par-5 15th and took off another stroke at No. 18.
But instead of punctuating that last putt with his trademark fist-pump, Woods reacted to his final birdie with a dismissive wave. He knew it was way too little too late.
“I entered this event and I enter events to win,” he said. “I didn’t get that done.”
When he might enter another tournament Woods could not say. “I’m going to take some time off and revaluate this,” he said.
Despite his shortcomings on the final scoreboard, Woods had to leave Augusta with a feeling of mission accomplished. A week that began with people wondering what’s wrong with his lovelife ended with them wondering what’s wrong with his game.