AUGUSTA: Tiger Woods resumed his incredible return from severe leg injuries with more struggles in Sunday’s final round of the Masters while leader Scottie Scheffler eyed his first major title.
Woods, coming off his worst Masters round of six-over par 78, teed off before thousands of supporters as his amazing efforts stole the spotlight at Augusta National ahead of an expected back-nine battle for the green jacket.
Playing 18 holes on four consecutive days for the first time since a February 2021 auto accident, the 46-year-old medical marvel was on nine-over for the tournament at the turn, 18 strokes off Scheffler’s pace.
Woods sank a tap-in birdie at the par-5 second but made bogeys on three straight holes, missing greens in regulation and par putts from nine to 12 feet at the par-3 fourth, par-4 fifth and par-3 sixth.
After missing an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-5 eighth, Woods closed the front nine with a par to stand at two-over on the round.
Woods was on pace for his worst-ever Masters performance, but the fact he was able to walk the course and play at all was nothing short of astonishing given his situation.
The 15-time major champion arrived at Augusta chasing a record-tying sixth Masters crown 14 months after a car crash that caused him to wonder if his right leg might have to be amputated.
After weeks hospitalised and months unable to walk, Woods rehabilitated his battered body and returned to top-flight competition on the same course where he won his first major title 25 years ago despite his right leg being held together with metal rods, pins, plates and screws.
The buzz around Woods and his remarkable fightback grew after he opened on 71 and was in contention after a 74 on Friday, making his 22nd consecutive Masters cut, one off the all-time record.
But Woods slumped to a 78 Saturday in cold and windy conditions, unable to recapture the putting touch that once dazzled fans worldwide.
The worst 72-hole score for Woods at the Masters was five-over 293 in his 1995 debut as an amateur and again in 2012. His worst finishes were shared 41st in 1995 and 40th in 2012.
More rounds can only help. In 2018, Woods returned from a two-year absence after multiple back surgeries and shared 32nd, then won the Masters the following year.
Meanwhile, world number one Scheffler put himself in position to capture the green jacket and a $2.7 million top prize from a $15 million purse with a breakthrough major triumph.
The 25-year-old American won his first US PGA title at February’s Phoenix Open, added another last month at Bay Hill and overtook Spain’s Jon Rahm for the ranking summit by capturing the WGC Match Play crown two weeks ago.
Scheffler stood on nine-under 207 after 54 holes, three strokes ahead of Australia’s Cameron Smith, last month’s Players Championship winner. Smith was a 2020 Masters runner-up when he became the first player to fire four rounds in the 60s at Augusta National in the same year.
Smith and Scheffler were set to tee off in the final pairings at 2:40pm.in a showdown of the sport’s hottest players on an iconic stage.
South Korea’s Im Sung-jae, the first-day leader and another 2020 Masters runner-up, was third on 212 with Ireland’s Shane Lowry, the 2019 British Open champion, and South African Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner, sharing fourth on 214.
Canada’s Corey Conners and American Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA championship winner, were eight adrift of Scheffler on 215.
To capture the green jacket, Thomas and Conners would need to equal the greatest last-round comeback in Masters history, the eight-stroke fightback by Jack Burke in 1956.
Scheffler could become only the fifth player to win the Masters while sitting atop the world rankings, matching the feats by Welshman Ian Woosnam and Americans Woods, Dustin Johnson and Fred Couples.
Only Woosnam, the 1991 Masters champion, has won a major in his first event at number one as Scheffler is attempting.
Scheffler could also become the first player to win four times in six PGA starts since Australian Jason Day in 2015.