Woods im­proves in fi­nal round at Masters, wel­comes break

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By MARK LONG AP Sports Writer AU­GUSTA, Ga. (AP) _ Tiger Woods nearly aced a hole and made his lone ea­gle of the week. The four-time Masters cham­pion some­what re­turned to form at Au­gusta

Na­tional. It was just a few days too late to be more than an af­ter­thought at golf's first ma­jor.

Woods closed with a flurry, record­ing a 3-un­der 69 in the fi­nal round at the Masters. He fin­ished 1 over for the tour­na­ment, 16 strokes be­hind win­ner Pa­trick Reed and in a four­way tie for 32nd.

It was far from what the 42-year-old Woods wanted, but he left the hal­lowed grounds feel­ing bet­ter about his game than he did a few days be­fore and more en­cour­aged than his last few trips to Au­gusta Na­tional.

Woods last played the event in 2015. He re­turned the last two years for the champions' din­ner, but didn't get on the course. The hia­tus left him feel­ing nos­tal­gic dur­ing his walk to the 18th green.

“This is one of the great­est walks in all of golf ,'' Woods said af­ter­ward. “And I had missed it for the last cou­ple of years. I hadn't been able to play in it, so now I'm glad I'm com­pet­ing in this tour­na­ment. And to face the chal­lenges out there, I missed it. I re­ally did. I missed play­ing out here. I missed com­pet­ing against th­ese guys. Such a great event. Best (event) in all of our sport.''

Woods started the week­end more than a dozen shots out of the lead and knew he would need some­thing spe­cial to hap­pen to get back in con­tention. It never hap­pened. Never even came close, ei­ther.

But there were some glimpses Sunday in his tra­di­tional red shirt.

Woods had two birdies and an ea­gle on the back and looked like he would get to even par for the event. He lamented his iron play for the fourth straight day and loathed two three­p­utts, in­clud­ing one for bo­gey on No. 18.

“An­other loose day with the irons,'' he said. “And I putted aw­ful. It was pos­si­bly the high­est score I could have shot to­day. All in all, a bit­ter­sweet end­ing.''

He still drew one of the round's largest gal­leries, giv­ing spec­ta­tors a rea­son to get to the course long be­fore the lead­ers ar­rived at the prac­tice range. They sim­ply wanted to catch a glimpse of one of golf's great­est play­ers.

Woods is as­sured of mov­ing back into the top 100 in the world, no­table only be­cause he was at No. 1,199 just over four months ago when he re­turned from yet an­other long lay­off fol­low­ing a fourth back surgery.

“I think things are pro­gress­ing,'' he said. “It was a lit­tle bit dis­ap­point­ing I didn't hit my irons as well as I needed to for this par­tic­u­lar week.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. 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.''

Woods plans to take some time off in April, maybe even putting the clubs in the closet for a few weeks to “kind of get away for a while.''

“The run up to this event is pretty hard and pretty gru­el­ing,'' said Woods, who fin­ished 12th, tied for sec­ond and tied for fifth in three tour­na­ments on the Florida Swing. “I pushed my­self pretty hard to get ready. And I peaked at it four times over the course of my ca­reer, and it's tir­ing.''

He can take some so­lace in mak­ing six birdies or bet­ter in the fi­nal round _ nearly as many as he made in the first three rounds com­bined.

The best one came early Sunday.Woods nearly aced the 240-yard, par-3 fourth. His tee shot landed a few feet short of the flag, bounced a cou­ple of times and then skirted by the left edge of the hole. He was left with a left-toright-break­ing 10-footer that he dropped in the left side of the cup.

His ea­gle putt at the par5 15th was even bet­ter. He drained a sweep­ing 30footer af­ter reach­ing the green in two.

Those shots pro­vided a brief snip­pet of what might have been at Au­gusta Na­tional had Woods had bet­ter con­trol with his irons.

Woods missed greens right and left, never re­ally get­ting ap­proach shots in the pre­cise spots on treach­er­ous greens. His er­rant ways left him start­ing a lot sooner than ex­pected Sunday and fin­ish­ing shortly af­ter the lead­ers teed off .

“My swing is slightly off,'' he said. “I was pleased with the way I was able to drive it, but I just could not con­vert with my irons. I strug­gled with ob­vi­ously con­trol­ling the shape. Can't con­trol the shape. Can't con­trol the dis­tance. And it was one of those weeks in that re­gard.''

“The run up to this event is pretty hard and pretty gru­el­ing,'' said Woods, who fin­ished 12th, tied for sec­ond and tied for fifth in three tour­na­ments on the Florida Swing.

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