April 12, 2015

Tiger grinds out final round to clinch top-20 finish at the Masters

Tiger Woods started out the week hoping for the best, but had no assurances of even making the cut in the 79th Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Idle since February 5, when he played 11 holes and withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open because of lower back stiffness, Tiger rebuilt his swing and overhauled his chipping.

He was as curious as the thousands of spectators and millions of television viewers how both would hold up under the spotlight and pressure of competition. And while he didn’t claim a fifth green jacket, his play was more than respectable.

Woods closed with a 1-over 73 on Sunday and tied for 17th at 5-under 283, 13 strokes behind wire-to-wire winner Jordan Spieth of Texas.

“To make a couple swing changes and then come here to a major championship and contend, I’m proud of that part of it,” Woods said. “I just wish I could have made a few more timely putts and moved up that board.”

After rounds of 73, 69 and 68, Tiger was tied for fifth starting play Sunday, 10 strokes behind Spieth. Woods knew he needed a fast start to apply some pressure, but it never happened. Tiger didn’t make a birdie until the par-5 eighth hole, missed every fairway and made the turn in 1-over 37.

“I needed to shoot 31 on that front nine and make a little bit of a run,” he said. “I missed three shorties in a row at Nos. 2, 3 and 4 and didn’t gather any momentum after that. The round was basically a struggle from there.”

To complicate matters, Tiger pushed his drive at the downhill par-4 ninth into the pine straw and took a big swing with a short iron, nearly getting the ball on the right side of the putting surface, but clipped a tree root in the process. As soon as he swung, he dropped his club and grabbed his right wrist in obvious pain.

“A bone popped out of joint, but I popped it back into place,” said Woods, who did not seek treatment and continued playing.

Tiger finally found his first fairway of the day at the par-5 13th, one of two he hit. But even then, he scrambled his way around the course and fought hard to score as well as he did.

Paired with top-ranked Rory McIlroy in the third-to-last twosome for only the third time in a major championship, Woods duck-hooked a 3-wood off the first tee into the ninth fairway, but hoisted his second shot over pine trees and found the front of the putting surface and managed a long two-putt par. At the par-5 second, he drove into the left rough, but hooked his second shot onto the green about 40 feet left of the pin and three-putted for only the second time in the tournament.

At the short par-4 third, Tiger hit his tee shot into the greenside bunker and splashed his second shot about nine feet from the cup, but missed the birdie attempt. His drive at the par-3 fourth found a front bunker, where he blasted about 10 feet beyond the hole and two-putted for a bogey.

After a long two-putt par at the par-4 fifth, Woods parred the seventh from just over the back of the green, but bogeyed the par-4 seventh. Following a poor drive, he knocked his approach shot into a front bunker, exploded 10 feet from the cup and two-putted.

Tiger finally broke through with a birdie at the eighth, where he came up just short of the green in two, pitched six feet past the hole and made the putt.

At the par-4 10th, Woods drove into the right trees, hit a low punch that didn’t reach the fairway, clipped his third shot about 15 feet from the hole and two-putted for a bogey. Clearly favoring his wrist, Tiger pushed another poor tee shot into the right trees at the par-4 11th, but hit a low punch that ran just over the green, chipped seven feet past the cup and made the par putt.

After a solid two-putt par at the par-3 12th, Woods piped his drive at No. 13 and flagged an iron over the top of the pin, winding up about 15 feet behind the hole. The putt was true and Tiger secured his first eagle of the week.

The positive momentum didn’t last long. After missing another fairway at the par-4 14th, his second shot came up short of the green, where he hit a nice chip within five feet of the hole but missed the par putt.

Woods’ drive at the par-5 15th finished in the second cut of the left rough, but he launched a nice second shot into the middle of the green and two-putted for a birdie from about 40 feet. Tiger made a nice up-and-down save from the left greenside bunker at the par-3 16th, then posted another scrambling par at the par-4 17th.

At the par-4 18th, Woods split the fairway with his drive, but pulled his second shot into the gallery on the left. With little green to work with, he pitched about 18 feet past the hole and two-putted for a bogey.

Even with his struggles, it marked the first time Tiger completed 72 holes in an official PGA Tour event since the Open Championship last July, when he placed 69th.

“I really like what I’m doing,” Woods said. “I just have to refine it.”