AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — For Tiger Woods, it’s come to this.
He’s no longer a factor at the top of the leaderboard.
Instead, the golfer who provided some of the game’s most electrifying moments can be found plodding along at the cut line, his primary goal simply to make it to the weekend.
He backed into another bit of Masters history on a cold, rainy Saturday morning at Augusta National, making his 23rd consecutive cut to tie the tournament record shared by Gary Player and Fred Couples.
Woods has never missed the Masters cut as a professional, a remarkable accomplishment in a career filled with them.
But it feels so un-Tiger-like.
He’s about winning green jackets, not surviving the cut.
Woods closed his weather-delayed second round with back-to-back bogeys for a 1-over round of 73. When he walked off the course, he was one shot above the projected cut of 2-over 146.
But the line jumped to 3 over when Justin Thomas imploded down the stretch, earning Woods and several other golfers the chance to play on through the weekend.
Woods won’t be focused on Brooks Koepka, who’s 15 shots off in the distance with the Masters lead.
A sixth green jacket is far out of reach.
Despite a grim look on his face as he plodded around the soggy course, Woods insisted he was eager to keep going.
It didn’t sound all that persuasive.
“I’ve always loved this golf course, and I love playing this event,” he said. “[I have] missed a couple with some injuries, but I’ve always wanted to play here. I’ve loved it.”
With a body that aches on every step, every swing, this might be the best he can muster.
When asked about the pain, he replied, “It’s constant.”
How much longer will that be worth it to a guy who has claimed 15 major championships — five of them at this place?
Certainly, this isn’t the way he would want to be remembered, essentially a hobbling, part-time relic from a different era. He wouldn’t want the cacophony of cheers that still follow his every step to be tinged with charity instead of awe.
There have been plenty of great athletes who hung around far longer than they should have, from Muhamad Ali to Willie Mays to Michael Jordan.
Golf is a bit different
Golf is a bit different, of course, since it’s a game that can be played at a high level well into the second half-century of one’s life.
Tom Watson nearly won the British Open at 59. Phil Mickelson did win the PGA Championship after turning 50.
But it’s a tenuous line between those turn-back-the-clock moments and essentially being MJ in a Wizards uniform.
Woods is 47, and it’s an old 47.
It’s hard to envision his battered body — after all the surgeries and a devastating car wreck that nearly cost him his right leg — feeling any better than it does now.
Woods’ window to win a sixth Masters title, or a 16th major championship, has surely closed. It may be a major letdown to see him scuffling around the course, but that is his new reality.
Since the car crash on February 23, 2021, Woods has played only five truly competitive tournaments. Four of them majors, the other an event he hosts at Riviera.
The first of those five came at last year’s Masters, where he made the cut despite a noticeable limp but had nothing left for the weekend, posting back-to-back 78s.
Woods took another go of it at the PGA Championship, only to withdraw before the final round after shooting 79 on Saturday.
After skipping the U.S. Open, he missed the cut at the British Open and tied for 45th at Riviera is his only event of the current year before arriving in Augusta.
Fans Stay Loyal
The fans have demonstrated over and over again that they will forgive Tiger Woods for his many foibles away from the course.
Like his longtime girlfriend, Erica Herman, accusing him of a cruel breakup in which she was told to pack a bag for a vacation and then found herself locked out of his home. Dragged into court over the matter, Woods denies he did anything wrong.
Then there’s the much-deserved criticism Woods received for a distasteful, sexist prank he pulled at Riviera. After outdriving Justin Thomas, he discreetly passed a tampon to his playing partner, implying he hit it like a girl.
Strange behavior, indeed. For the father of a 15-year-old girl who we would hope is being raised to believe there are no limits on what she can accomplish.
Through it all, Woods still draws some of the biggest galleries at Augusta National, serenaded with chants of “Go Tiger!” all the way around the course.
He’s continues to draw fans to the game. As evidenced by a young boy in a “TW” cap who persuaded his father to let him keep his spot along the topes at No. 4 until Woods walked by Friday.
But the shouts sound more respectful than hopeful these days, a nod to a time when Tiger Woods was a threat to win every time he teed it up.
That time is over.
Soon enough, he’ll need to decide if making the cut is worth the damage to his legacy.
Author: Paul Newberry, The Associated Press
Paul Newberry is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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