Tiger Woods shoots career-worst 78 at Masters

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Tiger Woods had a habit of turning weekends at Augusta National into gripping theater, relentlessly charging up the leaderboard one fearless drive, feathery iron, nervous putt at a time.

Not now. Maybe never again.

The magic the five-time Masters champion has summoned so easily for so long was nowhere to be found on another arduous four-plus-hour journey under the Georgia pines on Saturday. His 6 of 78 marked his worst in 93 career rounds in the tournament he came to define and left it at 7 over.

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With the lameness in his surgically repaired right leg becoming more pronounced with each deliberate and cautious step, the 46-year-old slid lower in the standings to end any chance – however unlikely – of being a late factor. Sunday afternoon.

There was no familiar load in the early April cold. Just the reality that 14 months from a serious car accident that threatened to end his career, Woods can still play golf. He just can’t do it – at least not yet – at the level needed to compete in a field made up of young players, many of whom grew up idolizing him but have long since grown in awe of him.

After a gutsy back-nine push on Friday that helped keep him on the sidelines of the contention, Woods made it to the first tee on Saturday two hours ahead of the leaders. Seeking to send a jolt through the gallery that lay five deep in places hoping for a glimpse and a chance to roar, Woods instead spent most of the afternoon silently staring at the hole or his putter – or the two.

He put the par-4 first at 54 feet for a bogey, a sign of things to come. On the par-4 fifth, he threw his club in disgust after his approach drifted to the right, away from a back left hole slot. His 60-foot offset attempt on a ridge was short-lived. His par 9-foot putt rolled his 3-footer and his return for bogey hit the holeshot and bounced. It was Woods’ first four-putt at the Masters – ever.

Things never really got better. Three more three putts followed on an afternoon when nothing looked really good. And it wasn’t just his leg. It was his back. His hands. His posture. All.

Worse still, there seemed to be no way to compensate. He tinkered, the kind of research usually reserved for the practice field, not the middle of a major.

“With so many putts I had, you’d think I would have figured it out somewhere along the line, but it just didn’t happen,” he said.

As Woods slowly made his way up the 18th fairway, leader Scottie Scheffler – aged just 25 and the best golfer in the world – turned the corner, doing at the Masters what Woods has done so often over the past quarter century: impose his will on the course and the tournament.

“We all wish we had that two- or three-month window when we get hot, and hopefully the majors fall somewhere within that window,” Woods said. “We take care of it in these windows. Scottie seems to be in that window right now.

A currently closed window for Woods. While it’s easy to call his mere presence in northeast Georgia this weekend a victory in itself given that last fall he wondered if he would play competitively again, Woods isn’t here to be a feel-good story. He has no interest in filling ceremonial fields.

His solid 1-under 71 in the first round on Thursday only seemed to embolden him. After a shaky front nine of 39 on Friday, he recovered to shoot 74 and slip under the cut line with ease.

He opened with another sloppy 39 on the front on Saturday. And for a few fleeting minutes shortly after making the turn, it appeared another rally was in store.

A clean iron at 14 feet on the No. 12 and a two-putt birdie at the par-5 13th provided a spark that never became a flame. He bogeyed on the 16th and 17th and his approach to the hill until the 18th sailed into the gallery. His bump and run caught the incline and continued to roll, with Woods cautiously chasing him long before he stopped nearly 60 feet from the pin.

Three more putts and his worst round in Augusta was finally over. His 78 was one more than the 77 he mustered in the third round of his maiden trip to Augusta in 1995.

He was an amateur at the time, a 19-year-old phenom. Two years later, he was champion. More than two decades later, he is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest in the history of his sport. He’s also a middle-aged father of two trying to track down something far more elusive than before.

“Every day is a challenge,” he said. “Each day presents its own different challenges for all of us. I wake up and start the fight again.

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