Tiger Woods birdied five of his final six holes during the final round at the 2020 Masters, but the late push was not an effort to make a run at the leader. Rather, it was to try and salvage what could have been a disastrous Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club.
The late birdie flurry left Woods with a 76 on the day and 1 under final score for the championship. It was the first time in his Masters career that he played holes 13-18 at 5 under, but again, it all came only to reverse some of the damage done by the worst hole of his professional career.
Back at the par-3 12th, where the door opened for Woods to make his move on Sunday in 2019, the five-time Masters champion carded a 10. Woods hit three balls into Rae's Creek -- one off the tee, one after the first drop and again from the back bunker -- before taking his third drop back in the sand, effectively getting out and cleaning up the mess with two putts for a septuple bogey.
"I committed to the wrong wind. The wind was off the right for the first two guys, and when I stepped up there, it was howling off the left. I didn't commit to the wind. I also got ahead of it and pushed it too because I thought it was coming off the left," Woods said after the round.
"From there, I hit a lot more shots, a lot more experiences in Rae's Creek," he added with a sheepish smile. "This is unlike any other sport. You're all alone out there, no one is going to pull you out, no one is going to get you off the bump. You've got to figure it out, and I did."
There was a certain freedom about Woods' game once he had survived the madness at No. 12, and the career-best performance coming down the stretch fits a week full of ups and downs in Tiger's title defense. After the bogey-free 68 on Thursday, Woods seemed primed to make some noise. He checked all the boxes with steady play, two-putt pars and carding birdies on both of the second-nine par 5s. Then it was a long layoff from Thursday's round finishing until he finally saw the course on Friday afternoon for a second round that was suspended because of daylight with nearly half of the round left to play.
That's really where things turned for Woods as the 44-year-old was tasked with 26 holes of major championship golf on Saturday. Woods had 21 pars on those 26 holes with three birdies and two bogeys. He played the course methodically and avoided mistakes, which would have been great if he was defending a lead on Sunday afternoon, but the style didn't keep him in the mix as Dustin Johnson and the rest of the leaders pushed the pace with birdies throughout the day.
Woods wasn't as aggressive on his approach shots into greens, didn't have the same looks at birdie, and by the time he was on his second nine of the third round on Saturday afternoon, he started to get a little bit stiff. Tiger was visibly uncomfortable as he bent down to pick up his tee after his drive on No. 10. He looked more comfortable physically on Sunday morning, but the buzz only sparked for a moment with an eagle try on No. 2 before Woods found himself scrambling for pars and staring down long birdie attempts.
That fact that Woods rallied back from his worst hole as a professional to tear through the final third of Augusta National Golf Club should be another reminder of how greatness is never that far away when he's on the grounds. Most of the middle rounds felt like maintenance for Woods, but that five-birdie run to close was the kind of aggressiveness that might have put the defending champion in a different position on the leaderboard if we'd seen it earlier in the week.