AUGUSTA, Ga. – It was vintage Tiger Woods.
He played the par 5s on Sunday at the Masters in 5 under, roared through Nos. 13-17 in 4 under, ignited the galleries like it was 2002 and finished with a final-round 69. And then he packed up to head home just after the leaders teed off for the final round at Augusta National.
Woods considered his performance at the 2018 Masters - his first start at the year’s first major since 2015 - as another baby step, another box checked off in his climb back to competitive relevance. Others might call it a wasted start, doomed by his worst iron play since he returned from fusion surgery on his lower back.
But of all the improvements Woods has made in recent years, it might be his ability to keep things in perspective that is so encouraging.
Sure, his iron play was varying shades of awful at Augusta National; he hit just 66 percent of his greens in regulation and ranked 37th in the field in proximity to the hole. There’s also no sugar coating the fact he was 6 over par for the week early on Day 3 and much closer to last place than first.
But when you’ve travelled as far as Woods has the last few months, some shaky iron play doesn’t leave the mark it may have in the past.
“It's disappointing that I didn't hit the ball well enough. But to be able to just be out here competing again, if you had said that last year at this particular time, I would have said you're crazy,” said Woods, who was tied for 32nd when he completed his round at 1 over for the week. “I had a hard time just sitting or walking. So now to be able to play and compete and hit the ball the way I did, that's quite a big change from last year.”
It appeared as if Woods was headed for his worst finish at Augusta National as a professional early in his round. He wrapped a pair of bogeys around a birdie at the eighth hole. And just eight holes later, it looked like he might have a chance to finish the week under par, before he three-putted the 18th hole.
“I felt I hit it well enough off the tee to do some things, but I hit my irons awful for the week,” Woods said. “I did not putt well today. I three putted seven and three putted 18 there. I didn't put it together when I needed to for the entire week.”
Iron play and putting need work, check, but he did drive the ball well, which is an improvement over what he has done this season. He ranked 11th in driving distance (293 yards) and said he gave himself plenty of opportunities off the tee.
Although his iron play was better on Sunday, he was still disappointed with his lack of control, which hasn’t been a problem this season.
“They were better, but not the way I’ve been swinging it,” he said. “I had so many opportunities to hit the ball close and I didn't do it. This golf course just magnifies, like 18 today, I hit such a beautiful, high 7 iron, a foot away from being back down the hill. Instead, I got this putt that you've got to hit sideways.”
Although Woods didn’t give anything away about his future schedule - his next likely start would be next month’s Wells Fargo Championship the week before The Players - he did outline what will be a relaxing few days after a busy week at the Masters.
“Take a little time off. Get back in the gym, start working on my body again. Get it in good shape, and get back at it again,” he said. “Generally after this tournament I put away the clubs for a while. The run up to this event is pretty hard and pretty grueling.”