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Tiger Woods and the battle together with his physique, his sport and his motivation

Tiger Woods left the grounds at Augusta National on Sunday afternoon with out his inexperienced jacket, figuring out all too properly that he won’t ever have the chance to take it with him once more.

Oh, it is going to at all times be there for him within the Champions Locker Room, ready for his subsequent go to, whether or not it is a pleasant observe spherical or the Masters Tournament he has received 5 instances.

It is Dustin Johnson who now will get to benefit from the spoils of victory, among the many many traditions related to Augusta National and the Masters.

Woods, 44, has contemplated his golf mortality earlier than, most notably within the spring of 2017 when his again points had been so acute he consulted with consultants in London earlier than selecting what was thought of a last-gasp spinal fusion surgical procedure.

We all know the remaining: He got here again and had a exceptional 2018 season that noticed him contend a number of instances and win the Tour Championship; he received the Masters in 2019 for his fifth title at Augusta, his 15th main and first in 11 years; and he later captured the Zozo Championship to tie Sam Snead with 82 PGA Tour victories.

After a robust efficiency on the Presidents Cup final December, Woods appeared on monitor to interrupt Snead’s file and have additional moments of glory.

All of that appears extra distant now, which is why Woods was so emotional and contemplative final week.

He almost got here to tears in his pretournament media session, describing the scene of his 2019 Masters win. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player later disclosed that Woods was in contrast to that they had ever seen him on the Champions Dinner, delivering a heartfelt discuss and acknowledging that he needed to pull over on the best way to the membership that night, the considered the jacket by no means leaving the premises once more totally on his thoughts.

He acquired off to an excellent begin in his 23rd Masters look, however then was doomed by the issues which might be very actual for him as we speak: chilly temperatures, a break between rounds, a lot of golf. Woods was out of the event early within the third spherical, left to play it out on Sunday.

The 10 on the 12th gap — his highest rating as a professional as he hit three balls into Rae’s Creek — solely added to the frustration.

Then one thing unusual and great occurred. Instead of sulking — and who may blame him if he did? — Woods acquired again to work. He birdied 5 of the final six holes. He had a makeable eagle putt on the 13th, chipped shut at 15, knocked it stiff at 16, and hit good approaches at 17 and 18.

He turned what ought to have been his highest rating ever at Augusta National right into a 76, which could not look like a lot however certain was spectacular below the circumstances. Imagine if Woods had finished that on Thursday or Friday. Even a subdued, serene Augusta National would have been buzzing.

“He’s Tiger Woods, is not he?” stated Shane Lowry, who performed with Woods throughout the first two rounds and once more on Sunday. “He’s one of the best of all time. I do not assume it issues to him whether or not he finishes 30th or third right here. A win is all he is on the lookout for. What a end. He appeared to hit each shot stone useless then for the remainder of the spherical.”

One of the underappreciated features of Woods’ profession is his will, his delight. The victories, the majors, the scoring data … they get the eye. But Woods as soon as made 142 consecutive cuts. He has by no means missed a lower as a professional on the Masters. Only this yr did he surpass 20 worldwide cuts for his 23-year-plus profession.

So the query as to his motivation over the closing holes on Sunday may be put to his profession at this level. What’s left to do? He shall be 45 when he doubtless tees it up in January on the Farmers Insurance Open. The pressure of making an attempt to prepare for tournaments is actual and was on show once more on the Masters.

Woods is caught between the necessity to play extra event rounds and the information that if he overdoes it, he shall be ineffective. Same for observe. He must work on his sport. Hitting too many balls, nonetheless, turns into a bodily difficulty for which he would then pay a value.

In the aftermath of his end Sunday, in a scenario the place such a query is awkward, I tried to ask Woods about his motivation at this level, given his physique of labor and the struggles he faces.

“Well, there are days when mentally I just — it’s hard to push than others just because physically it’s just — my body has moments where it just doesn’t work like it used to,” he said. “No matter how exhausting I attempt, issues simply do not work the best way they used to, and irrespective of how a lot I push and ask of this physique, it simply would not work at instances.

“Yes, it’s tougher than others to be motivated at instances. Because issues simply ache and must take care of issues that I’ve by no means needed to take care of earlier than.”

Woods was ready for the inexperienced jacket ceremony, the place he would do the honors for Johnson and he seemingly loved each second. He later tweaked the newly topped champion with a tweet wherein he anticipated Johnson to serve sandwiches at subsequent yr’s Champions Dinner, a nod to the winner’s remark earlier within the week that these sandwiches on the membership are amongst his favourite issues.

There is not any Hero World Challenge to fret about in December, the occasion having been canceled. There’s no lengthy journey to Australia for the Presidents Cup, the place he was one of the best participant final yr however the place even there again stiffness led him to take a seat out all of Saturday’s classes.

Playing these occasions on the finish of final yr impacted his preparation for 2020. He tied for ninth on the Farmers Insurance, after which by no means got here near that type once more, though he had your complete three-month pandemic shutdown to get match.

In the seven occasions previous the shutdown, his finest outcome was a tie for 37th on the PGA Championship. He tied for 38th on the Masters. It was simply the third time he completed outdoors of the highest 20 as a professional at Augusta.

“He labored fairly exhausting this week,” stated Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava. “If he continues to do this, there shall be some good instances subsequent yr. He drove it properly this week for essentially the most half, hit loads of completely different photographs, the excessive bombs, little low cutters. He’s working the ball properly and he feels fairly first rate. If he can keep wholesome, there have been some good indicators this week.”

There most likely is not a greater individual for Woods to have in his nook than LaCava, who has remained remarkably optimistic throughout even the darkest instances.

Without any event golf to fret about, Woods has much less on his plate. He has some company obligations, tools testing, sponsorship duties. He’ll undoubtedly get within the health club and do his finest to get match for 2021.

When he returns, the concept of creating the U.S. Olympic golf group and even the U.S. Ryder Cup group is now much more distant than it was when these occasions had been purported to be performed in 2020 and he was on the cusp of each.

But he’ll at all times have the Masters, and no less than this time, it’s not up to now off.

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