AUGUSTA, Ga. – The extended reign as 2019 Masters champion will officially come to a conclusion for Tiger Woods on Sunday.
All that’s left to do is play the final round of the 84th edition of the Masters and then Woods will drive off Magnolia Lane without the green jacket. Any chance Woods had of successfully defending his title and prolonging his possession on the most coveted garment in the game – which reached just over 19 months because of the COVID-19 global pandemic – came to an end on a long Saturday that he began at 3:30 a.m. ET.
On Moving Day, Woods started to have trouble moving in the third round as his troublesome back, which has been home to five procedures, the most recent a spinal fusion operation, began to give him fits. Needing to put up red numbers on the famous white scoreboards, Woods instead made just three in the 26 holes he played in the weather-delayed tournament.
Woods began play from the second cut just off the 11th fairway and completed his second round – which began at 7:30 a.m. – at 9:30 a.m. and signed for a 71. Coupled with his opening 68, he was 5 under and just four shots out of the lead.
But after a break of just more than one hour, Woods couldn’t get anything going in the third round and struggled to an even-par 72 that left him 11 shots out of the lead as he left the club.
While he looked limber and fit while completing the second round under overcast skies and in brisk temperatures, Woods looked stiff and troubled starting late on the front nine of his third round. He looked to be in pain as he removed balls from the holes and picked up tees after letting loose with his tee shots. He grimaced on occasion. Toward the end of the round, however, Woods looked a tad better.
“These are long days,” said Woods, who won his fifth green jacket and 15th major championship last year at Augusta National. “I had my day off yesterday, which was nice. Today was not the case. We’ve been at it for quite some time. It’s just part of the deal. If you have long days like this, I’m going to get a little bit sore, which I definitely am.
“I can walk all day. The hard part is bending and twisting. I think that’s part of the game, though, and so that’s always been the challenge with my back issues and I guess will always continue to be.”
As for his play, Woods was still confounded by the greens, which have been running much slower this November Masters because of the time of the year and the recent storms that drenched the course. The club’s SubAir system can work wonders but it can’t totally defeat Mother Nature.
“The putts just still aren’t quite breaking,” Woods said. “Some of the downhill putts are starting to move a little bit, but the uphill putts are not. We normally say that everything breaks towards Rae’s Creek, and the greens can get a little touch grainy. That’s definitely been the case this week, just because they’ve been a little bit longer. But today they started to get a little more run out to them, started playing a little bit more break. A couple putts today, both Billy (Horschel) and Rickie (Fowler) and I, we all got fooled just a touch.”
After 19 months, Woods’ title defense has but 18 holes to go. Woods got a jumpstart on what will likely be an emotional exit on Sunday. En route Tuesday night to the Champions Dinner, Woods had to pull his car over because he was overcome with emotion. He phoned his girlfriend, Erica Herman, before putting the car in gear to finish off the drive to Augusta National Golf Club.
He was overcome there, too, in front of the fraternity of Masters champions.
“I’ve never seen Tiger that way,” six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus said. “But it was good. It’s always good. You always walk away with some feeling of something you hadn’t had before.”
Three-time Masters champion Gary Player, who along with Nicklaus inaugurated the Masters by hitting the ceremonial tee shots Thursday morning, said Woods was remarkable in his speech at the dinner.
“He said he was on the way to the golf course and he had to stop because he had tears in his eyes and paused for a little while on the road because a lot of the memories were going through his mind very quickly,” said Player. “As I interpreted what he was saying, and to have won the tournament again with his children there.”
Woods said he hasn’t given any thought to how emotional Sunday will be.
“Tuesday was a long, tough day for me, but I have not thought about tomorrow yet,” he said. “I was focused on trying to get myself in contention going into tomorrow. Just found out that the tee times are going to be a bit early tomorrow and going off two tees, so I didn’t know what that bracket was going to be.
“I don’t know exactly what position I’m in. I think it’s 20th or 25th by now. I certainly will be part of the early part of the split and get after it tomorrow.
“We’ll see how emotional it’ll be after tomorrow’s round.”