By Dan Rapaport
AUGUSTA, Ga. — “Should” means diddly-squat in this game, but putting “should” be the easy part. There’s no pushing off required. No coiling, no side-bending, no need to move “ballistically,” as Tiger Woods put it Friday. Just let the arms hang loose, rock the shoulders, feel the speed with your hands. Plus, he’s spent countless hours during this latest comeback putting in his backyard. For months and months before the doctors turned him loose, it was all he could do. Again, putting should be the easy part.
How, then, did Tiger Woods have perhaps the worst putting round of his career: four official three-putts, two others from just off the green and a four-putt on Saturday at Augusta National?
“I just could not get a feel for getting comfortable with the ball,” Woods said after a six-over 78, his highest score in 93 competitive rounds at the Masters, that left him at seven over after 54 holes and outside the top 40. “Posture, feel, my right hand, my release, I just couldn’t find it.
“Tried different things, trying to find it, trying to get something, taking practice strokes and just trying to feel the swing and the putter head, trying to get anything, and nothing seemed to work. Even as many putts as I had, you’d think I’d have figured it out somewhere along the line, but it just didn’t happen.”
Woods four-putted the fifth hole from 65 feet, missing a six-footer for par then rushing and horseshoeing a two-footer for bogey. And it actually worsened as the round wore on—Woods three-putted each of his last three holes before limping off the 18th, his surgically rebuilt right leg screaming for a rest. Woods will never let on how much pain he’s in; all we can go off are context clues. After he talked to a group of reporters, Tiger embraced agent Mark Steinberg as he walked back uphill toward the clubhouse—half a sign of affection, half using him as a human cane.
After 14 months of rehabilitation and only a few weeks of walking 18-hole rounds, Woods has now trudged through 81 hilly holes in six days at Augusta. Pure adrenaline made a one-under 71 on Thursday possible, and he drained the energy reserves to salvage a 74 after an awful start on Friday. But Saturday always looked a tough task, with temperatures in the low 50s and an ever-present breeze combining for a shiver-worthy afternoon.
Warmth is Woods’ best friend these days. Humidity, too. It’s no coincidence he lives in South Florida. Warmth lubricates his 46-year-old joints and his fused back, and there was none of it on Saturday. But there lies the funny part—if the cold would claim a victim, you’d think it’d be the ball-striking. A stiff back produces a stiff swing. But Woods was satisfied with his move on Saturday. He gained roughly 1.5 shots from tee-to-green but lost nearly five with his Scotty.
“It’s just been blustery all day. You add in the temperature difference, it was cold starting out. The ball wasn’t going very far. I thought it was tough. Some of the other guys may not say that, but for me I had a tough time. I felt like I didn’t really hit it that bad. … I mean, it’s just like I hit a thousand putts out there on the greens today. Obviously it’s affected the score. You take those away and I have normal two-putts, I’m even par for the day. I did what I needed to do ball striking-wise, but I did absolutely the exact opposite on the greens.”
Woods entered this week believing, somehow, that he could win a sixth green jacket should things fall his way. He wouldn’t have teed it up if he felt otherwise. Saturday’s round will force even the most ardent optimists to abandon any hope of that dream. And it had nothing to do with his body.
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