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AUGUSTA, Go. (AP) – The Masters’ patrons filled every nook and cranny around the 18th green, awaiting the appearance of the man in red.
A scene that has been so famous to Tiger Woods on so many Sundays in Augusta National, but this one was different.
It was not even three o’clock on the warm, sunny afternoon in East Georgia. On the adjacent first hole, leader Scottie Scheffler and close pursuer Cameron Smith had just started in the final group.
Hunched over and noticeably limping, Woods climbed the deceptively steep hill that led to the green as the fans slowly rose to their feet, building the roar as they greeted a remarkable comeback, if not a weekend fairy tale.
“Why are you staying there, Tiger!” a man standing at the back of the crowd belted out.
From a purely golf standpoint, this was hardly the forest that so many people remembered. The man who won five green jackets, the last three years ago. The man who will go down as one of the best the game has ever played, even if he never has a chance again. (Don’t worry, it’s not ready yet.)
This Woods, the one who stumbled on a rebuilt right leg he could have lost 14 months ago in that horrific car accident, finished with back-to-back 78s, the worst scores of his Masters career.
He even had to make a left-handed swing on the 13th after hitting his ball on the pine straw behind the green, right next to an azalea.
His battered body just ran out of steam after a thrilling 71 on Thursday, when Woods returned to competitive golf for the first time in more than 500 days.
He scored a 74 on Friday to secure his 22nd straight Masters cut.
There was nothing left in the tank for the weekend.
Still, it was a satisfying experience, one that Woods clearly didn’t regret doing, even if he didn’t come close to winning a record-setting sixth green jacket.
“This tournament has meant so much to me and my family,” Woods said. “This is where all the great champions have ever played. They have walked this terrain.”
That Woods was able to run the trail again—for four days, no less—was an achievement in itself.
Following his wreck in February 2021, doctors told Wood his shattered right leg may need to be amputated. They managed to save it, but he had to spend three months in a hospital bed. It still has screws and rods holding the bones in place.
Woods limped at Augusta National which became more noticeable, sometimes using a bat as a walking stick to help him get around.
Most tellingly, he couldn’t bend all the way over to read putts on Augusta’s tricky greens, which could explain why his great short stick touch seemed to leave him on the weekend.
But aside from all the tournaments he’s won — especially those 15 major championships — this felt like his greatest achievement in golf.
“For not winning an event, yes. Yes, no doubt,” Woods said. “I think people don’t really understand. The people close to me understand. They’ve seen it. Some players who are close to me have seen it and have seen some pictures and things that I have had to go through. They probably appreciate it more than anyone because they know what it takes to do this here at this level.”
Everyone is realizing how much Woods still means to the game, even though at age 46 he is definitely in the twilight of his career.
“You just pull so hard for him,” said Harold Varner III, who joined Woods and Cameron Champ to make this the first Masters with three black players. “Obviously he’s great for the sport. If he’s around, we’re going to make a lot of money.”
Woods told Sky Sports he plans to play the British Open in St Andrews in July. He is unsure of the next two majors: the PGA Championship, which takes place in Southern Hills from May 19 to 22, or the US Open in Brookline in June.
“It will be just the big events,” Woods told Sky. “But I’m looking forward to St Andrews. That is something close to my heart. I won two Opens there, it’s the home of golf. It’s my favorite golf course in the world, so I’ll be there for it.”
“Goodbye,” his caddy, Joe LaCava, yelled at the media who gathered outside the clubhouse to talk to his boss.
Wherever that is, Woods plans to ramp up his rehabilitation so his body has a better chance of enduring four grueling days.
“We’re excited about the prospects of the future, about training, about going to that gym and doing some other things to make my leg stronger, which we haven’t been able to do because it took more time to heal,” he said. . “I think it will take a few more days after this to heal, but we’ll get back to it.”
As Woods spoke, there was a roar that sounded like it came from far below in Amen Corner.
Woods loves that roar. He hadn’t heard from them since his win in 2019. The following year, the tournament was played without fans in November due to the pandemic. Last year, of course, playing a golf tournament was furthest from Wood’s mind.
“It is exciting. It’s inspiring,” he said. “It’s nice to hear the roar.”
Woods hopes to make a few more before he’s done.
On this Sunday, he had to be content with the cheers that erupted one last time after he tapped a short putt on the 18th hole for a 13-over 301 – his worst Masters professional performance with eight strokes.
When Woods took off his cap and went to the clubhouse, the crowd around 18 started to disperse.
It was time to look at the players who actually had the chance to win the green jacket.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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