AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The 11th hole started the wrecking of Tiger Woods' day when his tee shot smacked into the arm of a man named John L. Sullivan.
Sullivan had no clue he'd play a tiny role in the historic and bootylicious return of Woods, but he did. Woods' tee shot hit Sullivan in the left arm, leaving a visible bruise near the biceps and a story to tell his friends back in Pittsburgh. The ball itself ended sitting snuggly next to Sullivan's bag in the rough to the right of the fairway.
Woods approached and decided not to take a drop. Woods' caddy, Steve Williams, told fans to "watch the shadows on his ball" and then rolled his eyes when several people didn't move quickly enough for his liking. After talking to himself for about 15 seconds, Woods took his shot, and a second after the swing there was a strong thud. The ball hit a tree and rolled out onto the fairway. Woods never said a word to Sullivan before or after ball met biceps.
Interestingly, in the very next group, again on 11, Phil Mickelson's shot hit a different fan, also in the arm, right near Sullivan. Mickelson approached the fan, asked if he was OK and handed him a glove.
Besides illustrating the differences between how Woods and Mickelson treat people, the 11th basically ended any chance of Woods making his Masters return even more fascinating than it was. Woods bogeyed 11 just as Mickelson was starting to surge.
And it was fascinating, curse-filled theatre watching Woods, to be sure. Woods shot 69 to finish 11 under and tied for fourth. His day typified what has been one of the more circus-like but brilliant returns to a sport after a layoff any great athlete has ever accomplished. It doesn't quite rival Ali's return to boxing, but it was on the same level as Michael Jordan's return to basketball.
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Woods may be a scoundrel, but he's a remarkable scoundrel who just pulled off a good Masters return despite missing extensive competitive play and being tabloid fodder for months.
Woods' return to the Masters was without question the right decision. It was a success story. There's no other way to see it.
Some will say Mickelson winning and Woods losing is good trumping evil. It's nothing so dramatic or Biblical. There is no good or evil in sports (unless you count the Red Sox vs. Yankees). Mickelson was simply better than Woods this week. That's it. That is all.
In the end, Woods looked tired. At times on Sunday, he looked exhausted. On that 11th hole, it was the first time that I can remember Woods appearing just ... worn.
"Yeah, I finished fourth," Woods said. "Not what I wanted. I wanted to win this tournament. As the week wore on I kept hitting the ball worse. I hit it better on Friday, but after that it was not very good."
He'd never admit this, but all of the craziness from the past few months finally caught up to him, beginning on that 11th hole.
On 14, he three-putted for a bogey. It was very un-Woods-like. He did eagle 15, but it was too late. The time Woods needed to start his run was at 11, not later, especially with Mickelson shooting out of his gourd.
The imagery from Woods' Sunday was as vivid from his other three days here. On the first hole, a white man wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle cheered wildly and sincerely for Woods while an African-American man expressed dismay over Woods' behavior and said he was uncertain if he wanted Woods to win. Some women cheered Woods while others sat with their arms folded and expressed what they'd do to Woods if he was their husband.
On the course, Woods was just as colorful. He bogeyed the first hole but a brilliant shot over some towering trees saved things from being much worse.
On the fourth, as the temperatures climbed, small beads of sweat started to soak through Woods' bright red shirt and Woods' temper began to shorten. After tee shot went slightly astray, Woods leaned forward in disgust and then yelled, "F---!"
On 13, Woods exclaimed, "God, Ti-ger. Je-sus Christ!"
|All things considered, Tiger Woods' comeback is a huge success. (AP)|
The seventh hole included three blondes waving to Woods, with one of them saying, "Tiger I still love you!" Woods looked over and smiled. He eagled seventh, tossing his club into the air in celebration.
Walking up 18, he tipped his cap to a mostly cheering gallery. The crowd rose to its feet after he birdied. He looked relieved.
Woods offered a somewhat cryptic comment when asked when he'd play again. "I'm going to take a little time off," he said, "and kind of reevaluate things."
What the hell does that mean? Probably nothing, but who knows with Woods?
The 11th hole is where things mostly started to turn for Woods, in the wrong direction, but this was still one of the best comebacks sports has ever seen.
From bimbo eruptions to fourth at the Masters isn't too shabby. It isn't too shabby at all.