Tiger Woods was working on a new swing going into the 2011 Masters.
He hadn’t won a PGA Tour title since the fall of 2009, a major since the summer of 2008, a Masters since the spring of 2005. His best finish in five starts before the Masters was a tie for 10th.
And he was still climbing out of the abyss that included public scandal, a divorce, and a shattered reputation that took root the night of Thanksgiving 2009 when he drove his car into a fire hydrant.
Not exactly a perfect prep en route to a fifth green jacket.
Still, Woods felt ready.
“Mm-hmm,” was his answer as he nodded his head in the affirmative when asked if he could win. “I’ve prepared all year to peak four times a year and that has not change, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
2011 Masters: Final leaderboard
After rounds of 71-66, Woods was three back. A Saturday 74, however, dropped him seven shots behind Rory McIlroy, the former Boy Wonder who seized command from the get-go with a 65 on Thursday. Rounds of 69-70 had him four clear of the field heading into the final round.
Then all sorts of crazy had a Sunday tee time.
Woods began an avalanche of roars and red numbers with birdies on four of his first seven holes. When his eagle putt dropped on the eighth, the earth shook and he was one back. When he made the turn, he had a share of the lead. Nine holes in, seven-shot deficit gone, vintage Woods was back.
But more than the red shirt was rumbling. Charl Schwartzel knocked in a 100-foot chip on the first for birdie and holed out from 108 yards for eagle on the fourth. Angel Cabrera made three birdies on his first eight holes. Jason Day, Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy, all trying to become the first Aussie to win the Masters, stayed within touch of the leaders. Luke Donald was right there. McIlroy turned in 1-over 37 but still held a share of the lead.
And then came the zaniest back nine you’ve ever seen among the Georgia pines. Eight players had at least a share of the lead on the final nine holes, with a five-way tie at the top at one point.
Ogilvy made five consecutive birdies to grab a share. Donald birdied four of his last six after dumping a ball into Rae’s Creek on the 12th. Scott took the lead with a birdie from two feet on the 16th and held it with a par from 17 feet on the 17th. Day birdied the last two to get into the clubhouse with a share of the lead with Scott.
McIlroy, on the other hand, tripled-bogeyed the 10th when his drive ended up between two white cabins 50 yards left of the fairway, bogeyed the 11th and four-putted the 12th for double and was done.
“I hung in pretty well on the front nine, then hit the tee shot on the 10th and I became unraveled,” said McIlroy, who shot 80. “And I just couldn’t get it back. I’ll have more chances. Hopefully this will build some character.”
It did – he won the U.S. Open two months later.
While McIlroy couldn’t get it back, Woods couldn’t keep it going. After a 5-under 31, he stalled. He missed two putts inside four feet – on the 12th for par and on the 15th for eagle – and he could only match par on the final nine and signed for a 67 to finish in a tie for fourth.
“I should have shot an easy 3 or 4 under on the back nine and I only posted even,” said Woods, who was winless in 21 tournaments over 17 months. “I hit it good all day. This entire weekend I hit it good. So that was a nice feeling. I just had a tough time on the greens.”
Schwartzel didn’t have any difficulties on the greens as he made Masters history. He became the first Masters champion to finish with birdies on the final four holes – from 10, 15, 12 and 18 feet – a 4-2-3-3 finish on the scorecard that showed a 66, the best final round by a winner in 22 years. His 14-under 274 total was two clear of Day and Scott.
“The birdie on 15 was big. That got me going,” he said. “And this game’s a funny game. Things just happen. Sometimes it sort of just snowballs.
“There are so many roars that go on around Augusta. Especially the back nine. It echoes through those trees. Every single hole you walk down, someone has done something, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard. But sometimes I would look at it and not register what I was looking at, and I think that sort of helped.
“So this is a dream come true. It was quite crazy out there, quite loud, but it feels so good to be wearing this jacket.”
This is the 17th story in a series looking at each of Tiger Woods’ appearances at the Masters. Catch up on the series here.
Watch the full collection of official Masters films, which has a one-hour recap of every Masters from 1960 all the way up to 2018.
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