Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Smith set off in what is expected to be a final round Green Jacket showdown at the Masters on Sunday, while Tiger Woods’ comeback following a car crash that threatened his career ended with a thundering ovation far away from the leaderboard.
The year’s first major was poised for a thrilling finish as the planet’s two hottest golfers in Scheffler, winner of three of his last five PGA Tour starts and Australian Smith, winner of golf’s unofficial fifth major the Players Championship in March, headed out in the final pairing.
World number one Scheffler started with a three shot advantage on Smith but it was quickly down to one when the Australian birdied the opening two holes.
As Scheffler and Smith were teeing off at the first, Woods was making his way to the 18th as he wrapped up a remarkable comeback that had captivated the sporting world.
Wearing his trademark Sunday red, Woods, usually all business on the course, was more engaged with the massive gallery that surrounded him at every turn acknowledging their support.
“It was an unbelievable feeling to have the patrons’ support out there,” said Woods. “I wasn’t exactly playing my best out there but just to have the support and the appreciation from all the fans, I don’t think words can really describe that given where I was a little over a year ago and what my prospects were at that time.”
After two impressive rounds to make the cut, the toll from four gruelling rounds on the undulating layout became clear as Woods noticeably limped around Augusta National and often used his club like a cane.
Woods drained a tap-in birdie at the par-five second but that would be the only bright spot on another day of struggles. He carded a six over 78 for the second consecutive day, matching his worst ever score at Augusta.
But on this day the score did not matter, even to the fiery competitor Woods. The 46-year-old was already a winner for simply competing at the Masters just 14 months after doctors had considered amputating his mangled leg.
Woods could contend again if his rehabilitation continues on track, said U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm after the pair played the final round at the Masters together on Sunday.
Although his most recent leg injuries, not to mention previous back issues, clearly inhibited his swing, Woods still demonstrated enough residual power to drive the ball 300 yards without too much effort.
“You can just tell that his leg is just not quite up there yet,” said Spaniard Rahm. “He is limping on the course … You can just tell that his leg and his body are just not used to walking this much.
“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.”
Former PGA Tour player Brad Hughes, now an instructor of several tour players, observed how Woods’ swing has changed as a result of the car crash.
“He seems to have a hard time posting into his legs and using the body strongly, which is obviously from the lack of motion and strength in his legs,” Hughes told Reuters.
“It’s still not bad but looks rigid and not as explosive and synched as normal.”
Woods plans to play the British Open at St. Andrews in July, but says his participation in the other two majors, May’s PGA Championship and June’s U.S. Open, depend on how his continuing rehabilitation goes.
The 46-year-old has clearly run out of time to win the three more majors needed to tie Jack Nicklaus‘s record.
More realistic a goal might be to claim one more regular PGA Tour event and surpass the record of 82 he shares with the late Sam Snead.