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TIGER Woods en­tered the 82nd Mas­ters as the bet­ting favourite de­spite hav­ing not com­pet­i­tively set foot on Au­gusta Na­tional since 2015.

Any ques­tions sur­round­ing the book­ies’ de­ci­sion, how­ever, were quickly dis­missed by his range ses­sion be­fore his open­ing round. Fresh off two top-5s in the PGA Tour’s ‘Florida Swing’, Woods barely missed a shot on Au­gusta’s ex­pan­sive prac­tice fa­cil­ity, fu­elling the ex­cite­ment that one of sport’s great­est come­backs was per­haps tran­spir­ing.

But it wasn’t to be for Woods, who strug­gled with his ball-strik­ing through­out the week and was never truly in the hunt.

“I felt I hit it well enough off the tee to do some things, but I hit my irons aw­ful for the week,” Woods said af­ter his fi­nal round 69. “I didn’t put it to­gether when I needed to for the en­tire week.”

While dis­ap­pointed with parts of his per­for­mance, the 42-year-old ac­knowl­edged that his game was “pro­gress­ing” and con­tin­ued to dis­play his joy at sim­ply be­ing back com­pet­ing at the high­est level.

“You miss it just a touch here it gets mag­ni­fied. And I just didn’t do a good enough job this week in that re­gard,” he said sur­mis­ing his Mas­ters per­for­mance. “But over­all I’m five or six tour­na­ments into it, to be able to com­pete out here and to score like I did, it feels good.

“For a cou­ple of years I’ve just been com­ing here just to eat. And now to be able to play this golf course and to be able to tee it up and play in the Mas­ters, this is one of the great­est walks in all of golf. “I missed it. I re­ally did.” Woods’ con­tin­ued en­joy­ment of his re­turn to the game is easy to un­der­stand, with the state of his game sur­pris­ing, and im­press­ing, many af­ter such a sig­nif­i­cant lay­off. The 14-time ma­jor cham­pion’s driv­ing was im­proved at Au­gusta and his once shaky short game stood up un­der its most in­tense test yet – sug­gest­ing the next step in the pro­gres­sion he spoke of might be win­ning once again.

And his post Mas­ters plans, which 12 months ago as he strug­gled to sit and walk would have been a pipe dream, sounded just like the Woods of old who won like no­body else.

“Take a lit­tle time off. Get back in the gym, start work­ing on my body again. Get it in good shape. And get back at it again.”

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