Woods returns to golf by finishing 4th at Masters

By most standards, Tiger Woods’ comeback would be deemed a

success. He contended for a fifth Masters title when some wondered

if he’d even make the cut. He took a step toward winning back fans

who were appalled by the serial cheating on his wife.

Woods didn’t see it that way.

He came back to the Masters to win, not just contend. To him,

there was no joy and no relief in tying for fourth in his first

tournament in five months, only disappointment and frustration.

“That’s not what I wanted,” Woods said Sunday after finishing

five strokes behind Phil Mickelson. “I wanted to win this

tournament. As the week wore on, I kept hitting the ball

worse.”

He had vowed to tone down his emotions, try to smile a little

more, acknowledge the fans every now and then. But that even

temperament quickly faded as the poor shots piled up. He yelled at

himself several times, loud enough for the gallery to hear and the

television microphones to pick up. He flipped clubs away in

anger.

Afterward, Woods got a bit testy when asked if the new Tiger was

still a work in progress.

“I think people are making way too much of a big deal about

this thing,” he said. “I’m not going to be walking there with a

lot of pep in my step because I hadn’t hit a good shot yet.”

Woods did hit some good shots, of course. The best Sunday was an

8-iron that he holed out from the fairway at No. 7 for an eagle. He

followed with back-to-back birdies and made the turn just three

strokes out of the lead, looking as though he was ready to make a

charge.

But Woods has never come from behind on the final day to win a

major, and this one wasn’t any different.

Another errant tee shot at the 11th led to a bogey. Then, an

inexplicable three-putt from 6 feet ended his hopes at the

14th.

He did bounce back to make an eagle on the par-5 15th, but

Mickelson was pulling away at that point. A short birdie putt at

the final hole only assured that Woods tied K.J. Choi for fourth

place.

“I had another terrible warmup,” Woods said. “I didn’t have

it. And it was pretty evident.”

He yanked his opening drive into the adjacent ninth fairway and

wound up with a bogey. Two more bogeys followed in the next five

holes, and he was on the verge of falling off the leaderboard.

Even though he turned things around before heading to the back

side, Woods never felt he was a serious contender.

“I still was pretty far out of it,” he said. “The guys were

making birdies on the easier holes and for most of the day I was

four, five, six back. It’s a long way to climb and I was still

making mistakes out there. I made too many mistakes.”

He seemed a little hard on himself.

But when Woods decided to return to golf at one of the biggest

tournaments on the schedule, a place where he had captured four of

his 14 career major titles, it was all in for the world’s

top-ranked player.

He was here for a fifth green jacket. Nothing else was

acceptable.

“I entered this event and I only enter events to win,” said

Woods, whose wife Elin did not attend the tournament. “I didn’t

get it done. I didn’t hit the ball good and I made too many

mistakes around the greens. Consequently, I’m not there.”

This was Woods’ first tournament since November. A Thanksgiving

night car crash had ripped his personal life apart, revealing a

golfer with an impeccable reputation who was actually leading a

sordid double life.

For a while mistresses were coming forward on an almost daily

basis. Woods went into hiding and tried to figure out how to save

his marriage. He even checked into rehab for 45 days, hoping to

learn how it all went wrong, a process of self-examination that he

admits revealed plenty of flaws.

Despite his disappointment Sunday, Woods clearly made the right

personal decision to make his return at Augusta; it exhibits more

control over ticketing and media credentials than any other

tournament. Everyone expected the fans would be polite, and they

seemed to warm to Woods as the week went on. The muted applause got

louder and louder when it became apparent he would be a

contender.

It might be different at future tournaments, where the crowds

are rowdier and the tabloid media may have more success gaining

access.

Woods is more concerned about getting his game in shape.

“Other than my backswing going bad and my downswing going bad,

it wasn’t too bad,” he griped.

Woods said he’s not sure when he’ll play again, but the next

stop in his comeback figures to be the Quail Hollow Championship,

which begins April 29 in Charlotte, North Carolina. That would give

him a tuneup for the Players Championship the following week,

considered the biggest event on the PGA Tour outside of the four

majors.

“I’m going to take a little time off,” is all Woods would say,

“and kind of re-evaluate things.”