AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods had 212 yards to the fifth green on Sunday morning. Holding a long iron, he struck with the appropriate speed and rhythm. But something was wrong at contact with the ball, and in the split second it took for Woods to transition from downswing to follow-through, he let go of the club. He fell to the ground over his left shoulder.
The shot bounced 30 yards short of its target and Woods winced. His shoulders sagged. He sighed and retrieved the stick from the grass and slowly limped forward, favoring a surgically reconstructed right leg after his car accident on February 23, 2021.
The 2022 Masters Tournament, which began with a smiling Woods excited to be back at Augusta National Golf Course surrounded by a supportive group of colleagues, was playing for him in his final hours in a small and humble way. .
Woods’ error on the fifth hole of the final round was one of many errors, in this case the second of three consecutive bogeys through the first nine holes. Since his stunning and inspiring 1-under 71 in the opening round, Woods has slowly withered away, betrayed by a sore right leg, an unsteady back bothered by the cold weather and the demands of walking and playing for seven straight days. for the first time. in 17 months.
By Sunday, the crowd that had swarmed their opening rounds had thinned considerably as fans scrambled to position themselves to see the fourth-round leaders, who would tee off three hours later.
But as Woods walked up the hill to the 18th green, the sizable crowd of fans waiting for him applauded thunderously.
After a double bogey on No. 17 and a four-foot putt for par on No. 18, Woods finished the round six-over-par, leading 13th in the tournament. He shook hands with his playing partner, Jon Rahm, doffed his cap to the crowd and walked off the green, smiling and limping.
It was not the conclusion Woods envisioned as he set out to make an unlikely return to elite competitive golf less than five months after declaring his days as a top player almost over. But Woods emphatically doesn’t see his score from four days in this year’s tournament as the measure of his appearance.
After Thursday’s first round, Woods, who for a quarter-century has been known for saying his only goal in any meet is to win it, was asked if just showing up at Augusta National was a win.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “Absolutely.”
It was an eye-opening confession for Woods, but it clarifies the image of him slowly ascending the mountainous terrain on Sunday, often wincing. He didn’t finish near the leaders, but he finished anyway.
Woods likely won’t play again until the PGA Championship in mid-May in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Woods has said his future schedule could be modeled after Ben Hogan when he returned to golf after a car accident in 1949. Hogan had broken collarbones, pelvis, a rib and ankle, among other injuries. serious. Hogan won the US Open the following year and two major golf championships in 1951, but skipped many other tournaments.
In November, in his first public comments since his accident, Woods evoked Hogan’s reappearance as a paradigm to follow.
“I think one thing that’s realistic is to play on tour someday, never again full-time, but pick and choose, just like Mr. Hogan did,” he said. “Pick and choose a few events a year and play around that.”
On the 10th hole on Sunday, Woods took another ferocious swing from his driver. He clung to his stick and leaned into it as his ball hooked left in the woods.
Woods then used the club like a cane to support his right side as he descended the steep incline that led to an 80-foot drop from the tee to the distant fairway. When he reached flatter ground, Woods handed his driver over to his caddy, Joe LaCava, and drove on.