By Ryan Gilchrest
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Just when you thought he was out, he pulled you back in.
Tiger Woods very nearly pulled off the impossible Sunday after starting the final round seven shots back at Augusta National Golf Club. He stormed up the front nine in electrifying fashion but couldn’t follow through on the back nine.
Woods finished with a final-round 67, 5 under for the day and 10 under for the tournament.
Despite a brief stint as the leader in the clubhouse, he continued his string of close-but-not-quite finishes at the Masters.
Since his last green jacket in 2005, Woods has finished tied for third, tied for second, second, tied for sixth, tied for fourth and on Sunday tied for fourth.
“I got off to a nice start there and posted 31,” Woods said, “and then on the back nine, I could have capitalized some more.”
But the chances to go even lower kept slipping away. On No. 12, he lipped out a short putt for par and dropped a stroke.
On 13, a hole he birdied in the first three rounds and on which he is 41 under in his career, he took par. A makeable eagle putt on 15 slipped past and he settled for birdie.
Eventual champion Charl Schwartzel played the final four holes in 4 under on Sunday.
Woods played the same holes at even par. Schwartzel defeated Woods by four strokes.
While the back nine was disappointing for Woods and the massive gallery that followed him throughout the day, the front nine called to mind images of 1986.
Twenty-five years after Jack Nicklaus charged through the field to win, Woods seemed poised to do the same.
He birdied 2 and 3 but dropped a shot at No. 4. Then his round really got going. On 6, a par 3, his tee shot rolled to within 6 feet, and he hit the birdie putt.
“Be perfect. Be perfect,” Woods said as his iron shot sailed toward the green.
On the par-4 seventh, his second shot from the fairway stuck 8 feet from the hole.
He drained the putt and jabbed his fist in celebration. As it turned out, 6 and 7 were just his opening act.
Woods stepped to the tee on the par-5 eighth, crushed his drive, then hit his second shot to 8 feet to set up an eagle putt and move to 10 under. In less than two hours, he cut his deficit to then-leader Rory McIlroy from seven strokes to just one.
Woods never made it to 11 under. He was the co-leader on two separate occasions at 10 under after McIlroy shot 6 over on the first three holes of the second nine, but that was as close to victory as Woods got Sunday.