Ignore the score and the limp, Tiger Woods had a good walk at the Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The wave of security elements moving in let the few people hanging around the back of the clubhouse know that Tiger Woods was exiting the parking lot. His caddie, Joe LaCava, had already dropped Woods’ clubs in his car and left on a golf cart. The few people who were busy huddled together against the cold. Then Woods got out and walked with a pronounced limp towards his car. He looked like he was in pain, and the thought that he had somehow come to terms with not limping in front of the cameras made his long, brutal Saturday all the more poignant. Stripped of his mask, he has carried heavy for the past 14 months, and especially the last two days.

Woods shot 78. The round looked as bad as the number sounds. He grimaced more than he had before. Howling winds blew over the course, with the temperature steadily dropping, which is the worst possible weather for his rebuilt and sore leg. He made a joke about it earlier in the week – “I think anyone in this room who’s older than me can probably attest to that” – but it didn’t look funny in the setting sun, was heading into the next few hours hoping his team could find enough tape and thread to get him back to the first tee on Sunday.

If that sounds dark, that’s because it kinda was. The energy evaporated from the course when people realized he didn’t have a championship race in him. Not this year. He put a hole in 4. He put 3 in four more. He had trouble bending over to read the greens. Even so, there were flashes of what was and what could be again, when he has more time to grow stronger and heal. Standing on the 12th tee, looking up and trying to figure out the swirling wind in Amen Corner, he did the math in his head. He spoke to LaCava, who was holding a 9 iron. The wind changed.

“New or wait? asked LaCava.

Tiger took the club and took aim. He stuck it on the green and rolled in his birdie putt. He also birdied at No. 13 before bogeying at 16 and 17. A crowd gathered around the last tee. The mood of the gallery was not the frenzy of a Sunday charge, nor the usual shenanigans for a better view. People seemed to be grateful, if that makes sense, for his recovery perhaps, or more likely for the effort it took to get this far, to the 54th hole of the Masters.

“Thanks, Tiger,” one guy shouted. “We love you!”

Woods hit a good drive before the two bunkers on the left side of the fairway. He twirled the club and walked after the shot. To his right, on the 10th green, a huge roar rose from the gallery, encouraging someone else. It was no longer his tournament to win, the roars now awaited the rest of the field. He kept walking and another roar sounded from somewhere behind him. The future of golf was rolling this Saturday, the leaders all popular with people who love golf, who congregate around card tables and throw cash in Calcuttas, but the only golf legend in the world just wanted to end this walk.

Woods hit his second shot in the gallery, made a bad chip then 3 putts to finally end the day. Leaving the green, he exhaled hard.

“It felt like I hit a thousand putts on the greens today,” he said after entering. “I just couldn’t feel comfortable with the ball. The posture, the feel, my right hand, my release, I just couldn’t find it.”

He only had 18 holes left to complete one of the bravest tournaments of his career, even if he was playing for a moral victory of sorts. He was asked what he hoped people watching at home would take away from his stubborn insistence on playing.

“Never give up,” he said. “Always chase your dreams.”

It’s weird to think of Tiger Woods as a guy with dreams. Goals, of course, like hitting metrics in the gym, or seeing his range of motion improve by small degrees. A dream is a childish thing, full of wonder and imagination. He’s a quiet guy and his dreams remain his own. But for people wondering why he would even try to play this week, there might be an answer in that word. The last three days, and Sunday, are just the beginning of something he sees for himself. Tiger Woods won’t win the 2022 Masters, but he will leave this place a winner.

“I fight every day,” he said. “Every day is a challenge. Every day presents its own challenges for all of us. I wake up and start the fight again.”