AUGUSTA, Ga. – A Masters that began so swimmingly for Tiger Woods effectively ended late in the second round, when his near-perfect wedge struck the flagstick at No. 15 and ricocheted into the water.
He left the grounds late Sunday afternoon in a steady drizzle, empty-handed once again
His 2-under 70 left him at 283, four strokes behind the number that sent Adam Scott and Miguel Cabrera to a playoff won by the Australian, whose caddie, Stevie Williams, once used to work for Woods.
After slipping into a tie for fourth, Woods put much of the blame on a familiar nemesis — his putting.
"It's one of those things where this golf course was playing a little bit tricky," he said. "We had four different green speeds out there and I couldn't believe how slow they were the first two days. Yesterday, I couldn't believe how fast they were. And then today, it was another different speed again."
But his driving wasn't all that strong, either.
While Woods ranked comfortably among the top third in both greens in regulation and putting, he finished near the bottom in hitting fairways. What might have been the biggest obstacle, however, was the odd turn of events at No. 15 on Friday.
Woods was tied for the lead at 5-under and had a wedge in his hands with 87 yards left to the pin at the 530-year, par-5 hole. His first attempt hit the stick and caromed about 45 degrees left, rolling into the pond. He took a penalty drop and recovered with another beautiful wedge for a tap-in bogey 6.
But a viewer called into the club and advised Masters officials that he believed Woods had taken an illegal drop. Officials reviewed a videotape of the shot and initially decided no penalty was warranted. But after Woods said in a post-match interview that he'd dropped the ball 2 yards from the original spot, club officials conducted another review, met with him Saturday morning, and added the two-stroke penalty. That made his score at the hole an 8 and bumped his round to 73.
But it was considerably better than the second option — disqualification.
Asked Sunday whether that blunted his momentum, Woods replied, "Well, we could do a what-if on every tournament we lose.
"We lose more tournaments than we win. But I certainly had my opportunities to post some good rounds this week," he added. "I thought I really played well. ... So overall it was a pretty good week."
Yet it began ever better than that.
Woods arrived at Augusta National early last week off consecutive PGA Tour wins and with a new girlfriend, Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn. Soon after, he picked up another endorsement from Jack Nicklaus, who repeated that he still expected Woods would one day eclipse his record 18 career majors.
And when Woods opened Thursday with a 70 — the same score he posted in the opening round of three of his four Masters wins — the stars appeared to be aligning for one more green jacket.
"I thought 65 would win it outright" Sunday, Woods said. "I thought that was going to be the number ... maybe 8- or 9-under.
"If I would have shot my number," he added, "it might have been a different story."
Just before he left the clubhouse, Woods was asked whether hitting the flag was as bad a break as he's had in his career?
He reflected for a moment.
" I've had a few," he said finally, "but that's certainly up there."