AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) - Tiger Woods was unable to conjure up his old magic at the U.S. Masters this week but that did not dampen the enthusiasm surrounding his return to Augusta National.
Woods, despite no chance of getting into contention on the final day of the year’s first major, was given a warm reception whenever patrons caught a glimpse of the four-times Masters champion navigating the course in his traditional Sunday red.
For Woods, who battled back issues for years and had spinal fusion surgery last April, this week marked the first time he competed in any of golf’s four major championships since 2015.
“It’s disappointing that I didn’t hit the ball well enough,” Woods said after capping his final round 69 with a three-putt bogey at the 18th.
“But to be able to just be out here competing again, if you had said that last year at this particular time I would have said you’re crazy.”
Woods is only six tournaments into his comeback from injury and while he was unable to display the type of form that had him labeled as one of the favorites this year, he remains upbeat for what lies ahead.
“Things are progressing,” said Woods. “I just didn’t do a good enough job this week ... but to be able to compete out here and to score like I did, it feels good.”
With hours to go before the final pairings teed off, Woods was by far the main draw on a cool morning at Augusta National with fans offering words of encouragement each step of the way.
Long forgotten was the sex scandal that dogged Woods late in 2009 and ultimately cost him a number of lucrative endorsement deals. Also erased from memory was last year’s DUI arrest that produced a droopy-eyed booking photo.
And the fact that Woods began his round 18 shots behind overnight leader Patrick Reed was also not enough to spoil the party for the former world number one’s supporters.
Instead, patrons were focused only on jockeying for position with hopes of getting up close with Woods.
“For some reason when you are front row in front of Tiger Woods... you don’t even want to look at him because you are so scared,” Patrick Keim, a 22-year-old student from Auburn, Alabama, told Reuters as Woods made a par putt at the par-three sixth hole.
“The intimidation and the intensity is undeniable.”
Ever the competitor, Woods was still intent on making a move up the scoreboard and did post his lowest score of the week — a three-under 69.
While not able to consistently produce the type of shots he once conjured on command, Woods twice triggered loud roars of old when he nearly aced the par-three fourth and then again at the par-five 15th when his second shot stopped 29 feet from the pin before he converted the eagle putt.
The way Woods, a 79-times winner on the PGA Tour, tamed what was one of the most difficult holes all week is why some of his supporters feel the greatest golfer of his generation is far from done.
“It’s positive what he’s doing,” Ryan Godsey, a 41-year-old teacher from Greenville, South Carolina, said as Woods made birdie at the par-three fourth. “He will win again, it’s just a matter of time.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Pritha Sarkar