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At the Masters, Tiger Woods finishes, reflects and looks ahead

Tiger Woods salutes the crowd on the 18th green Sunday. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — With a second consecutive 78 in the books and a closing score of 13 over par, Tiger Woods wrapped up his improbable participation in the 86th Masters and grew reflective Sunday.

“This tournament has meant so much to me and my family — this entire tournament,” he said of the Masters in general. “You go back to the year I was born — [1975] 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. Twenty-five years later, here I am playing again.”

He had played again in his first competition since the Masters of November 2020 and in his first competition since his frightening one-car crash in Southern California in February 2021, which almost cost him his right leg as well as any further chapter of a voluminous career. All of the above rendered a stunner his 71 on Thursday on a rebuilt leg, rendered an accomplishment his 74 on Friday as the wear and tear built and rendered unsurprising his 78s of Saturday and Sunday.

“You can just tell that his leg is just not quite up there yet,” said Jon Rahm, the U.S. Open champion and the No. 2 player in the world, who played alongside Woods in the sunshine Sunday. “I’ve seen him in the truck. 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 at home if 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.”

Scottie Scheffler caps remarkable rise with a dominant Masters victory

If the crowds witnessing Woods this week at Augusta National lend a hint, Woods in contention could create quite some noise somewhere, someday. For now, the galleries seemed primed for more than just the usual commiseration from those many fans who understand the brutality of golf but a commiseration from all those who understand calamity and recovery.

That’s even if they might not understand the details.

“I don’t think people really understand,” Woods 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 there 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 [later], I’m able to tee it up and play in the Masters.”

That lent an air of festival to this tournament and maybe even helped Rahm close with a 69 after rounds of 74, 72 and 77. “It’s really cool,” he said. “It was great because nobody cared about me, so I was just watching him play. It was one more spectator, and I ended playing good — kind of a bit of a load off my shoulders in that sense. I was able to enjoy today as a fan and as a player.”

He and they saw a 46-year-old who has done an unusual amount of winning — 15 major titles, five Masters titles — in a sport that tends to limit winning but who wound up ranking this Masters highly among his achievements while giving it a predictable asterisk.

“For not winning an event, yes,” he said. “Yes, without a doubt.”

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