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On the Masters, Tiger Woods Finishes, a Victory in Itself

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods had 212 yards to the fifth green on Sunday morning. Holding an extended iron, he swung with appropriate velocity and rhythm. But something was amiss at contact with the ball, and within the millisecond it took for Woods to transition from downswing to follow-through, he let go of the club. It flung to the bottom over his left shoulder.

The shot bounced 30 yards wanting its goal, and Woods grimaced. His shoulders sagged. He sighed and retrieved the club from the grass and slowly limped forward heavily favoring a right leg surgically reconstructed after his automobile crash on Feb. 23, 2021.

The 2022 Masters Tournament, which began with a smiling Woods thrilled to be back on the Augusta National Golf Course surrounded by a supportive group of colleagues, was playing out for him in its final hours in small, humbling ways.

Woods’s miscue on the fifth hole of the ultimate round was certainly one of many gaffes, on this case the second of three consecutive bogeys on the front nine. Ever since his startling, inspiring opening-round one-under-par 71, Woods has wilted piecemeal — betrayed by a sore right leg, a balky back bothered by chilly weather and the demands of walking and playing for seven successive days for the primary time in 17 months.

By Sunday, the crowds that swarmed his opening rounds had thinned considerably as fans were rushing to position themselves to see the fourth-round leaders, who would tee off three hours later.

But as Woods walked uphill to the 18th green, the sizable crowd of fans who waited for him applauded thunderously.

After a double bogey on No. 17 and a 4-foot putt for par on No. 18, Woods finished the round six over par, 13 over for the tournament. He pumped hands along with his playing partner, Jon Rahm, tipped his cap to the group and walked off the green, smiling and limping.

It was not the conclusion Woods envisioned when he willed himself to make an improbable return to elite competitive golf lower than five months after declaring his days as a top player all but over. But Woods emphatically doesn’t view his four-day rating at this 12 months’s tournament because the measure of his appearance.

After Thursday’s first round, Woods, who for a quarter-century has been renowned for saying that his only goal at any competition is to win it, was asked if just showing up at Augusta National was a victory.

“Absolutely,” he answered. “Absolutely yes.”

It was a revealing confession for Woods, but it surely elucidates the image of him slowly ascending the hilly terrain on Sunday, often wincing. He finished nowhere near the leaders, but he finished nonetheless.

After his final round, Woods said he was grateful, in spite of everything he has been through, to have played this 12 months on the tournament he has won five times, and that continued to mean a lot to him. He said the week was his best achievement for a tournament that he didn’t win.

“The people who find themselves near me understand, they’ve seen it,” Woods said. “Among the players who’re near me have seen it, and have seen among the pictures and the things that I’ve needed to endure, they usually appreciate it probably greater than anyone else. Because they know what it takes to do that out here at this level.”

He added: “It’s been a tricky road and you recognize, one I’m very thankful to have the chance to give you the option to grind through numerous various things could have happened. But in 14 months, I’m capable of tee it up and play within the Masters.”

It is probably going that Woods won’t play again until the P.G.A. Championship in mid-May in Tulsa, Okla. Woods has said his schedule going forward could be modeled after the approach Ben Hogan took when he returned to golf from a automobile wreck in 1949. Hogan had fractures of his collarbone, pelvis, a rib and an ankle, in addition to other serious injuries. Hogan won the U.S. Open the subsequent 12 months and two more major golf championships in 1951 but skipped many other tournaments.

In November, in his first public comments since his accident, Woods evoked Hogan’s comeback as a paradigm to follow.

“I believe something that’s realistic is playing the tour at some point — never full time ever again — but pick and select, identical to Mr. Hogan did,” he said. “Pick and select a couple of events a 12 months and also you mess around that.”

On the tenth tee on Sunday, Woods took yet one more ferocious swing of his driver. He held on to his club and leaned on it as his ball hooked left into the woods.

Then Woods used the club like a cane to support his right side as he descended the steep slope that led to an 80-foot elevation drop from the tee box to the distant fairway. When he reached flatter ground, Woods handed his driver to his caddie, Joe LaCava, and soldiered on.

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