His fourth straight round brought out signs of fatigue and focus. One day after Woods made a brief run up the leaderboard, he made three double bogeys and closed with a 4-over 76, the highest score of the tournament.
Rarely has a December event attracted this much curiosity. Woods, the dominant player of his generation, had gone 466 days since his previous tournament because of two back surgeries. The recovery at times made it difficult for him to walk and led him to wonder if he would ever play again.
“It’s really good to be back playing again, competing,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I made a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of birdies, but I made a lot of mistakes.”
Rust or fatigue?
“It’s both,” he said with a laugh. “I made some poor decisions. I hit the ball in some wrong spots. Quite frankly, it feels kind of weird not to be in a cart. Getting my legs back, focusing for a long period of time, these are the things I missed for a year-and-a-half.”
One day after he briefly pulled within two shots of the lead, it was clear early on that Sunday would be a struggle. Woods was scrambling for pars instead of being in a position to attack pins. He twice made double bogey on a par 5, starting at No. 6 when he blasted out of the sandy area to the back side of a double green, forcing him to chip off the putting surface.
Still, he rallied with three straight birdies to play the front nine at Albany in even par. He was never going to win the tournament — Matsuyama was too far ahead — but it was a chance to post a decent number and take more positives into what figures to be a two-month off-season.
Instead, Woods couldn’t get up-and-down on No. 10 and made bogey. His tee shot on 11 failed to clear a deep bunker and a poor pitch from a tough lie from right of the green led to a double bogey. He then missed a short par putt on the next hole.
And then he answered with two birdies.
Woods made his third double bogey of the week at the 18th hole, this time without even going into the water. His tee shot landed in a thick palmetto bush and he had to take a penalty drop to take it out. Just his luck, his drop in the sandy waste area settled right in front of the nub of another bush. He got that back to the fairway, went just over the green and took two putts from there for his six.
Woods managed to keep the week in perspective.
“I made some birdies, which was nice. I was playing aggressively,” he said. “But I also made some mistakes. I had two sevens. You can’t make two sevens. It adds up to a high number. On the flip side, I was able to be aggressive. I need to balance it out.”
Woods at least starts his climb from No. 898 in the world, the product of not playing since Aug. 23, 2015.
His caddie, Joe LaCava, offered the best perspective.
“I wasn’t going to compare him to the rest of the field. They’ve been playing all year and they’ve been playing great,” LaCava said. “Honestly, my goal was to get him through five rounds on his feet. That was big.”