Sir Nick Faldo has warned Tiger Woods that he is “still a long way off” from being able to compete with the world’s best and declared that his performance at the 82nd Masters was a “wake-up call” .
Woods fired a 69, his best round of the week, in Sunday's final round to reach three-over and ensure that this was not his worse finish at Augusta in 21 years as a professional, but Faldo, England’s six-time major champion, was not impressed.
Like most experts, Faldo came here talking up Woods’s chances after watching him finish second and fifth on his last two outings, which happened to be just his second and third official tournaments since returning from being sidelined for a year because of back troubles.
“He came off some really good play in Florida but, unfortunately, there are still too many things wrong with his game, Faldo said. “He is struggling with his irons. This has been a wake-up call with what the leaders have done this week. He is still a long way off.”
Naturally Woods was a lot more positive than Faldo, with whom he has experienced a fractious relationship over the years. This was his only sub-par round of the tournament saw him beat Phil Mickelson by a shot, despite the left-hander conjuring a five-under 67.
Woods reacts after a missed putt on the seventh hole CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
“It's disappointing that I didn't hit the ball well enough,” Woods said. “But to be able to just be out here competing again, if you had said that last year at this particular time I would have said you're crazy. I had a hard time just sitting or walking. So now to be able to play and compete and hit the ball the way I did, that's quite a big change from last year.
“For a couple of years I’ve just been coming here just to eat. And now to be able to tee it up and play in the Masters, this is one of the greatest walks in all of golf. And I had missed it for the last couple of years. I missed it. I really did. I missed competing against these guys. It’s such a great event. It’s the best run event in all of our sport.”
Whether this week can be judged as a short sharp shock back to reality or even, as some have it, “a failure “, depends on the perspective of the observer. Perhaps we were all seduced by his runner-up placing at the Valspar Championship behind Paul Casey last month and let our imagination run away with us; all the way back to his glory years.
Faldo wasn't impressed by Woods' performance CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Here is a divorced father of two who has undergone eight major surgeries, four of which have been on his spine in the last two years, and who had been essentially inactive for two years and in pain for five years. This is only his fifth event in his comeback and, as he said, patience is the key word.
“Things are progressing,” Woods said. “No, I just didn't do a good enough job this week in that regard. But overall I'm five or six tournaments into it, to be able to compete out here and to score like I did, it feels good. Generally after this tournament I put away the clubs for a while. The run up to this event is pretty hard and pretty gruelling. I pushed myself pretty hard to get ready. And I peaked at it four times over the course of my career and it's tiring.”
Woods will probably next be seen at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow at the start of next month. The Players Championship follows the week afterwards and then he might play one more event – the Memorial in Ohio – before pitching up Shinnecock Hills in June for the US Open. The first item on the agenda when he returns to the range will be his iron-play, which cost him so badly as he finished over par for just the sixth time at the Masters.
Many experts gave Woods a decent chance at winning at Augusta CREDIT: AP
“I felt I hit it well enough off the tee to do some things, but I hit my irons awful for the week and no it was not a problem in the build-up,” he said. "That's why it's frustrating. Given the fact that I was playing well coming in, my practice sessions have been good, and just have not executed the way that I have been. I know what the problem is, I'm struggling trying to fix it on the fly and trusting it."
Woods approved of the way the green jackets had set up the course. “You can hit the ball close to virtually every pin except for 12, but they put them on the upper right tee to make it a little more enticing, a little shorter,” he said. “I think it has the right set up for this back nine to be exciting. You can hear the roars back up there and throughout the golf course. And I'm sure you're going to hear a lot of noise. “
As if to prove his point, Casey had Augusta history in his grasp. The 40-year-old, who was fancied by many at the start of the week to make it two English winners in three years – seemed on the brink of recording just the second 62 in major history – after Branden Grace broke the glass ceiling at Royal Birkdale last year – as well as setting an Augusta course record when he went through his first 15 holes in nine-under.
Starting on two-over, Casey stormed to seven-under, leaping from a tie for 30th into the top 10 as a result. But instead of pressing on forwards, Casey went into reverse, bogeying the 17th and 18th for a 65 to finish on seven-under.