James Lawton: Tiger Woods learns that some things are beyond even his control at the Masters

Furore over great escape seems to affect world No 1 during scrambling final round

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The Independent Online

Tiger Woods was supposed to reinherit some of his old world – and ride home on the back of a decision that both split and outraged a sport that spent many years kneeling at his feet.

Unfortunately for him, the kind of script written so contentiously in the committee room here is not easy to reproduce in the rigours imposed by a great golf course, which yesterday was in the mood to break quite a number of hearts. There are many different estimates of the tenderness of this particular heart but, whatever the circumstances, few have ever doubted the level of fight packed into the one belonging to the Tiger.

He suffered hard as he attempted to win his first Green Jacket since 2005 – and his first major in five years – but the task of redemption and of creating an inevitable recharging of huge controversy was always just beyond him.

At least it was true that as a competitor there were no new questions against his honour. He finished a few shots away, with a two-under-par 70, and five under par for the tournament, but was no question that he is not about to drift too far from the centre of the action that passed him by last night.

It was a low and darkly oppressive sky when he came to the first tee in the early afternoon – and so was the level of much of the debate still billowing around the extraordinary reprieve granted him by the rules committee.

The verdict was clear enough in the galleries, however. There were howls of delight when he appeared in his red battle tunic reserved for Sundays – and this was just the reaction of the CBS television brass, relieved that the Tiger was continuing to dismiss the idea of walking away from the tournament in which he had broken the rules of golf, signed an inaccurate card and still survived.

However, the whoops had hardly subsided before it was clear that Woods faced a massive challenge. This Masters tournament was fashioned by the legendary Bobby Jones, a man who believed so passionately in the strictest adherence to the letter of the golfing law that he called a one-shot penalty on himself in the 1925 US Open.

Rules officials and the leading pro Walter Hagen – the man who declared that at some point all players need to stop to smell the flowers – tried to talk the great amateur player out of his decision. Jones demurred and it was a stand which took him into a losing play-off.

America was awash with praise for a man of principle but Jones shook his head and declared: "You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."

Yesterday some were saying that the Tiger had his hands so far into the till he might have been wearing a bandit's mask. Others were quickly considering the claim that crime doesn't pay.

There was even a new temptation to speculate that a groundswell of protest about his escape with a two-stroke penalty, rather than the disqualification which many in golf believed should have been automatic, was maybe having a delayed but devastating effect on his recent surge of confidence.

That did not seem so likely when Tiger came through the Saturday dusk with a 70 which left him just four shots behind the leaders, Angel Cabrera and the American Brandt Snedeker. Woods may never have won coming from behind on the last day but there was a distinct swagger when he explained how brusquely he decided to step beyond the argument about whether he should have walked away on Friday night.

He made the whole affair sound like the result of nothing much more than a little loose thinking — and loose talk.

He said the furore would never have happened had he not talked about his efforts to reproduce the brilliant shot that had flown off the pin at the 15th and finished in the water, after which Woods had to make a choice of three possible drop zones. He chose the wrong one but might, he claimed, have escaped without punishment in other circumstances. "No," said Woods, "it might have happened because they had already made their determination prior to me finishing on the 18th hole. {Fred} Ridley and they had already decided everything was fine.'

It wasn't, of course, and the only way it might have been was if Woods had considered a little more the rules of the game he dominated for so many years than the imperative of reproducing the original, ill-starred shot. "You know," he said, "I wasn't even really thinking. I was still a little ticked about what happened and I was just trying to figure, OK, I need to take some yardage off this shot and that's all I was thinking. It was pretty obvious I didn't drop it in the right spot.

"Well, I didn't know there was an issue until I looked at my phone and saw that Steinie [his agent Leigh Steinberg] had texted me to say that Fred Ridley [the rules committee chairman] wanted to talk to me. When I called Fred he explained the whole situation and said, 'Come on in and let's talk about it', so I did and we went through the whole process from there.

"Under the rules of golf I can play. I was able to get out there and play. I didn't know what was going on. Fred explained the whole situation and just said, 'Come on in and let's just talk about it', and from there we went through it.

"I was able to get right into focus. I went to the gym and it was normal. I got all activated and ready to go and once I came to the golf I was ready to play."

That was Saturday but Sunday presented a new set of challenges and, maybe, a new accumulation of pressure. He had time to absorb a sense that he was maybe at a new point of pressure in his career and that maybe there was a hardening of opinion against him in some quarters of the game.

That might have been a matter of indifference at other times and in other situations but this, after all, was the Masters which he felt he had come to control.

Yesterday it was more a place to fight a war of attrition, to scramble pars and then raise his arm in disgust when the bogeys came on the fith and the seventh holes. This was supposed to be Tiger riding every advantage that came his way, once again exerting an unprecedented aura. But it never looked like this, not even when he retrieved birdies on the ninth and 10th holes and right to the end speculated on wholesale collapse above him on the leader board.

In so many different circumstances this has been the signal for an invasion of Amen Corner – and for the rest of the field to submit to the thunder of a superior game.

Not yesterday, not after the weekend when the Masters tournament insisted on keeping its biggest star in the game. The Tiger grimaced for many reasons and not least when he looked and saw there were still too many shots between him and the prize. It was not where he or Augusta National or American television expected him to be. But then, of course, some things are not so easy to arrange.