AFTER this golfing rite of spring, everybody is already looking forward to a summer showpiece. As the 86th Masters drew to a conclusion last night, Tiger Woods ensured that he’ll be the talk of the Auld Grey Toun come July.

“I am looking forward to St Andrews,” he said of the 150th Open in a statement of intent that probably had the Fife Council hastily mobilising the troops to get the bunting hung up along The Scores. Unless the R&A high heid yins have got it up already.

“That is something that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve won two Opens there, it’s the home of golf, it’s my favourite golf course in the world. I will be there for that one.”

That he was in Augusta for this one was something of a miracle. Not quite walking on water, more walking over Rae’s Creek.

As he neared the end of an arduous 72-holes on his first competitive outing for over 17 months, Woods was increasingly incapacitated. The triumphant ovation the five-times Masters champion received coming up the 18th, though, gave him a spring in his hirple.

Two weekend rounds of 78 were his worst scores in a distinguished Masters career. His 13-over tally of 301 was his highest ever total in this neck of the woods while that accumulation was the first time he’d finished with a double-digit, over-par aggregate in a major since the 2013 US Open.

In a career which has led to him breaking more records than a rammy at a second-hand vinyl fare, these statistics won’t be something the 46-year-old will be dwelling on. Woods watched last year’s Masters on a TV while lying in bed with shattered legs. Here in 2021, golf’s bionic man was battling through four rounds over Augusta’s unforgiving, undulating terrain. 

The cliche goes that the Masters is a tradition unlike any other. This was a fitness test unlike any other too. By the end of it, Woods just about had to drag himself to the recorder’s hut as his aching body creaked and groaned like rusting hinges in a stiff breeze.

Asked if emerging relatively unscathed from the rigours was one of his finest accomplishments, Woods replied: “For not winning an event, yes. Yes, without a doubt.

“I don’t think people really understand. The people who are close to me understand. They’ve seen it. Some of the players who are close to me have seen it and have seen some of the pictures and the things that I have had to endure. They appreciate it probably more than anyone else because they know what it takes to do this out here at this level.

“It’s one thing to play with my son [Charlie] at a hit-and-giggle, but it’s another thing to play in a Major championship. It’s been a tough road, and one that I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to be able to grind through it. A lot of different things could have happened, but 14 months [on], I’m able to tee it up and play in the Masters.

“I’m thankful. I really am. Just to be able to play, and not only just to play, but I put up a good first round. I got myself there. I don't quite have the endurance that I would like to have had, but as of a few weeks ago, I didn't even know if I was going to play in this event.

“To go from that to here, we're excited about the prospects of the future, about training, about getting into that gym and doing some other stuff to get my leg stronger, which we haven't been able to do because it needed more time to heal. I think it needs a couple more days to heal after this, but we'll get back after it, and we'll get into it.”

As Woods was hobbling home, the movers and shakers at the sharp end were embroiled in a fascinating tussle for the green jacket. Scottie Scheffler, the seemingly unflappable Texan, held a three shot lead after 54-holes as he hunted down his first major and his fourth win in his last six starts and he was standing strong amid the tumult.

Cameron Smith, the equally talented Australian, was clinging to his coat-tails with combative zeal while Rory McIlroy, making a belated push to secure an unlikely career grand slam, had mounted a quite rousing charge that could have been made on horseback with a lance. It was thrilling stuff.

Oban’s Robert MacIntyre, meanwhile, finished with a flourish and a closing three-under 69 left him on the fringes of the top 20 as the final day edged to a captivating finale.