AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods might have lost this Masters because he knocked down a flagstick.
Or, maybe it’s the other way around – maybe a flagstick knocked him down.
Woods might have been too good to win this week.
If it’s possible to lose the Masters with one swing on a Friday, Woods lost it with a marvelous swing, a wedge shot where his ball unluckily hit the flagstick at the 15th hole and caromed into the water. Woods finished four shots away from making Sunday’s playoff, and you wonder if all four came with that one swing.
If Woods doesn’t hit the flagstick, is he looking at a birdie chance there? Is it possible he makes a 4 there instead of an 8, after his improper drop set off a furor and led to two penalty shots being added to his bogey?
A guy could drive himself crazy lamenting that unlucky turn, but Woods wasn’t dwelling on any of that as he left Augusta National early Sunday evening after closing with a 2-under-par 70.
“Well, we could do that `What if’ in every tournament we lose,” Woods said. “We lose more tournaments than we win on Tour, so that’s just part of the process, and I’ll go back to it.”
You wouldn’t have blamed Woods if he left Augusta National mumbling like Sergio Garcia about the golf gods being against him.
This Masters loss could have disappointed Woods as much as any, because his game was in such good form coming here. He arrived off three victories this season, including his last two starts. Throw in the unlucky shot, the controversy that followed, and it’s enough to make a man grind his teeth in his sleep.
His life appears to be in a good place in so many ways. There’s the time he cherishes with his children; a new girlfriend, Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn; and there are his six PGA Tour titles in his last 21 starts.
Woods had it all in life, and he’s looking like he’s getting it back, except for this major championship business.
If there’s a frustrating last piece that isn’t falling back into place, it’s Woods’ quest to win another major and get back on track in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major championship victories.
This Masters loss means it’s still five years since Woods has won a major. Nineteen of them have now passed since Woods last won one. Eight Masters have now passed without another green jacket.
Though Woods has won four Masters titles, this major seems to tease him more now than any other. He tied for fourth Sunday, meaning he has now finished T-4 or better in seven of the last nine Masters.
This all matters to Woods, because majors are his life’s ambition as a player, but he didn’t leave looking discouraged in the least. In fact, Woods left Augusta National looking upbeat, even encouraged.
“I played well,” Woods said. “I certainly missed my share of putts today, actually this week. I also made a bunch, too.”
Woods left Augusta National sounding more excited about how close he is to winning another major than he was dispirited falling short of winning another.
“I certainly had a chance. If I would have posted a number today, I was right there,” Woods said. “I was four back starting out the day, and I thought I really played well this week.”
Woods made a run on the back nine Sunday, but it was too little, too late. He was looking to shoot 65 and post a score and put some pressure on the final groups coming in, but he couldn’t find the spark he needed early. In fact, he was moving backwards on the front nine. Woods missed an 8-footer for par at the fifth. He missed another 8-footer for par at the seventh. Four back at day’s start, Woods was eight back walking down the ninth fairway, but that’s where he got himself going.
Woods birdied the ninth, the 10th and the 13th holes. When he hit his approach at the 15th to 30 feet, he was looking at an eagle putt that could have pulled him within two of the lead. But he birdied there, his last birdie of the day.
“I had my opportunities to finish with some good numbers this week,” Woods said. “I felt like I really played well, and I played this week the way I've been playing all year, and that's a good sign.”
That’s the Woods of old, always believing he’s close.