After years of inspiring awe and fascination, Tiger Woods drew sympathy this week. And he was OK with that, Stephanie Apstein writes, and encouraging fans to ‘never give up.’
AUGUSTA, Ga. — On his 71st hole, Tiger Woods shed all pretense. Earlier in the week, and earlier in the day, he had used a club as a cane for a few steps, when climbing into a bunker or navigating an incline. But on the 17th hole on Sunday afternoon at the Masters, his driver took his ball 287 yards, and then it took his body the same distance. An iron took him to the green, and his putter took him off it. Not until he crested the hill on the 18th fairway did he walk unsupported, handing his iron to caddie Joe LaCava as fans rose to cheer and Woods doffed his cap.
Fourteen months after an auto collision almost cost him his right leg, Woods limped, staggered and tottered his direction to his second in a row 78 – his most exceedingly terrible 18-opening score at Augusta National. He finished the competition at 13 strokes over standard – likewise most terrible – and completed in 47th – additionally most awful. Scottie Scheffler, the boss, beat him by 23 strokes.
Woods, 46, said afterward that it had been one of the greatest achievements of his career — but because he is still Tiger Woods, he added, “for not winning an event.”
He insisted on Tuesday that he believed he could win this one. “I don’t show up to an event unless I think I can win it,” he said. He shot 1 under par on Thursday, four strokes back of the lead, but any chance at a sixth green jacket evaporated when he four-putted the fifth hole to make double bogey on Saturday. So he played the next seven and a half hours or so for something more ephemeral than a trophy.
After that round, he said he was showing fans to “never give up. Always chase after your dreams. And I fight each and every day. Each and every day is a challenge. Each and every day presents its own different challenges for all of us. I wake up and start the fight all over again.”
That was not always the message fans seemed to receive. Over the 25 years since he first won here, Woods has inspired awe, controversy, fascination. This weekend he inspired sympathy.
“It’ll be a miracle if he finishes,” a fan said at the 17th tee.
“Poor guy,” another one said at the 17th green.
“Ouch, ouch, ouch,” said another at the 18th tee.
It was hard to watch. It was harder to pull off. After the round, Woods was asked how much pain he was in. He smiled. “Uh-huh,” he said.
Later, he added, “I don’t think people really understand. The people who are close to me understand. They’ve seen it. Some of the players who are close to me have seen it and have seen some of the pictures and the things that I have had to endure. They appreciate it probably more than anyone else because they know what it takes to do this out here at this level. It’s one thing to play with my son at a hit-and-giggle, but it’s another thing to play in a major championship.
“It’s been an extreme street, and one that I’m exceptionally appreciative to have the potential chance to have the option to crush through it. Many things might have occurred, yet 14 months [after the crash], I’m ready to tee it up and play in the Masters.”
Indeed, his mother, Kultida, 14-year-old daughter, Sam, and 13-year-old son, Charlie, took this lame-duck Sunday seriously enough to fly to Augusta in the morning. (Girlfriend Erica Herman has been here all week.) In so many ways, it looked like a standard Tiger Sunday: Kultida walked the course, as she does whenever he is in contention, and the whole family wore red. Woods drew ovations everywhere he went. But he used his putter as a cane more often than he used it to make birdie.
Woods has said he will never play a full schedule again, but even he does not know quite what life as a part-time golfer will look like. He told Sky Sports on Sunday that he intends to play the British Open in July at St. Andrews. “I’ve won two Opens there, and it’s near and dear to my heart,” he said. He would not commit to the PGA Championship in May at Southern Hills or the U.S. Open in June at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. “I will try,” he said. “We’ll see what this body is able to do.”
The PGA is five weeks away; even in 2019, when all he had to endure physically was his fused back, he won the Masters, did not play again until the PGA, shot 1 over par there and missed the cut.
Still, he said he believes he will build endurance, and Jon Rahm, paired with him on Sunday, agreed.
“You can just tell that his leg is just not quite up there yet,” said Rahm. “I’ve seen him in the truck [that serves as a training room]. He is limping in the truck. He is limping on the course. Obviously, he is trying very hard to play, but it’s not easy to walk up and down those hills. At the end you can just tell that his leg and his body are just not used to walking this much, right?
“I believe if at home he can walk and get strength up and stamina in that sense, he will be able to be competitive again. This is the hardest walk all year. He will be able to go somewhere where it’s a little easier to walk. It won’t be as long, and I believe he’ll be able to contend.”
In the meantime, Woods’s final task of Masters Week was to get home, and for that his final cane of the day was Charlie. Woods moved haltingly down the stairs from the champions’ locker room, then leaned hard on his son’s head as they made their way to the player parking lot, where courtesy car No. 29 awaited them.
“I love my son so much,” Woods joked through gritted teeth. “See how much I love him?”