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Tara Sullivan

No storybook ending but Tiger’s presence animates Augusta

Tiger Woods tips his cap on the 18th green in appreciation of the support of the throng of Augusta patrons who cheered him on.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Six days ago, Tiger Woods arrived at Augusta National and threw the staid old golf club into a frenzy. With a practice round heard ‘round the world, Woods turned a normally quiet Masters Monday into something resembling an electric Masters final Sunday, a unique symphony of sound Woods knows a thing or two about conducting.

By the Sunday afternoon of this 2022 tournament, Woods was authoring quite a different ending than the victories he began piling up 25 years ago, when he won the first of five green jackets. This time, as he labored his way up the 18th fairway, it was not to a chorus of victory like the one he last enjoyed only three years ago, but with a halting gait pained by each step.


And yet, somehow this limping form and this strained smile told a compelling story all their own, the tale of a man who fought so hard to compete on some of the most hallowed real estate of his chosen sport, even if he occasionally had to use a trusty club as a cane.

How much pain was Woods in on Sunday?

“Mmm-hmm,” he nodded in affirmation of that simple, direct question, trying to smile through his grimace.

Woods was standing atop a wooden box as he spoke, one set up not far from the entrance to the scoring hut and Augusta clubhouse just up from the 18th green. Elevating his right leg to that height had proved its own difficult task, done slowly and gingerly, much like the fourth round in four days he had just completed. There was no more reason to hide how hard it had all been, not from the fans who still lined his early-morning fairways to the family, including his mother Kutilda and children Sam and Charlie, who were waiting behind him to gather in hugs.


The story arc had changed so much, from the miraculous 1-under par debut in Thursday’s first round, which came 509 days since he had last played a competitive round, to the Masters cut he made with another solid round Friday, all of it happening a mere 13 ½ months since he’d nearly lost his life, and almost lost his leg, in a California car crash. As adrenaline waned and exhaustion set in, as Saturday’s putts wouldn’t fall and Sunday’s aches wouldn’t subside, the can’t-look-away level of excitement that started his week had morphed into a hard-to-watch level of empathy to close it.

“Just to be able to play, and not only just to play, but I put up a good first round. I got myself there,” he said. “I don’t quite have the endurance that I would like to have had, but as of a few weeks ago, didn’t even know if I was going to play in this event.”

Tiger Woods strikes a familiar pose as he tees off during Sunday's final round action at Augusta.Gregory Shamus/Getty

Still, he wouldn’t change it, or have it any other way. The golfing world shouldn’t want it any other way either. For all of Woods’s divisive elements over the years, from the embarrassing tales of infidelity that wrecked his marriage to the irresponsible driving that wrecked his car not so long ago, from the occasional club thrown in anger on the course to the more than occasional foul language dropped on it as well, Woods’s place in the history of golf cannot be overstated. When he, a Black man with such a powerful game, a child prodigy with such creative shots, won that initial green jacket 25 years ago, a new golf story began.


And with it came the permanent right for the man who authored it to write his own Augusta endings.

“This tournament has meant so much to me and my family, this entire tournament,” he said in front of that microphone Sunday. “You go back to the year I was born, and that was the year that the first Black man played in the Masters in Lee Elder. He was an honorary starter last year. He was there when I won in ‘97, and 25 years later here I am playing again.

“It’s meant a lot to me, and there’s no other place, no other major that we play in the same venue. St. Andrews is, obviously, near and dear to my heart because it’s the home of golf, and I’ve been able to win a couple of Opens there, but we rotate.

“This is different. This is where all the great champions have ever played. They have walked these grounds.”

None more slowly and deliberately than Woods did across those 7,510 yards on Sunday. By the time it was over, he’d carded a round of 78 to match the 78 he’d played Saturday, a total of 301 strokes that were eight more than his previous worst Masters performance, back in 2012 when he turned in what was then his worst finish as a pro, a tie for 40th.


He stands alone in 47th this year.

And yet, there was victory here too. He won by being out there.

“I don’t think people really understand,” he said. “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 a tough road, and one that I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to be able to grind through it. A lot of different things could have happened, but 14 months [after the accident], I’m able to tee it up and play in the Masters.”

No wonder he didn’t hesitate in counting this among his greatest achievements.

Tiger Woods waves to the crowd on the 18th green after finishing his round Sunday at Augusta.Gregory Shamus/Getty

“For not winning an event, yes. Yes, without a doubt,” he said. “To go from where I was to get to this point, I’ve had an incredible team that has helped me get to this point and incredible support - the amount of texts and FaceTimes and calls I got from players that are close to me throughout this entire time has meant a lot.”


Appropriate for someone who means so much to golf.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.