Tiger Woods, almost there

Tiger Woods charged from behind Sunday in the final round of the Masters but it wasn't enough. Is it safe to say the old Tiger is back? Andrew Redington/Getty Images

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Sure, it was a Masters Sunday when you needed a defibrillator next to the couch, but in the end, what did we wind up with?

We got a green jacket being hung on the bony shoulders of 140-pound Charl Schwartzel, and who knows if we'll ever see HIM again. He seems like a work in progress. Even his first name is unfinished.

This is the 10th different winner in the past 10 majors. It's like golf is running some kind of contest. Hey, you. You just won the Masters.

Tiger, please come back. The game misses you.

What kills you is he was right there. He had it. He did all the hard work and messed up the easy stuff. He shot his lowest Sunday round ever at the Masters, 67, and still didn't jacket. He crushed all the elephants and got stampeded by the squirrels.

He did all the hard work and messed up the easy stuff. ... He crushed all the elephants and got stampeded by the squirrels.

Sunday started with Tiger Woods 7 back. "What was the use?" you thought. He hadn't won any of his 14 majors from even 1 stroke back, much less 7. This was setting up as just another Sunday walk at a major straight back to the jet and home to that big empty house in Orlando.

It was going to be 17 months now since he'd won, the longest nuclear winter in his professional career. It was going to be 11 straight majors without winning one. Almost three years of majorless minorness.

But suddenly, things stopped making sense.

Suddenly, Woods was Arnie at Cherry Hills, 1960, charging from 7 back. He turned the front in a delicious 31 and young kids like Rory McIlroy were seeing him in the rearview mirror and driving into cabins.

He was splitting every fairway (six of the first six). He hit irons like you diagram them on the course map. (He hit eight of the first eight greens.) He made birdies at 2 and 3, a bogey at 4, but then a birdie at 7, that ear-splitting eagle at 8, and a par saved out of both straw and sand on 9.

For the first time since the 2007 Masters, Woods had a chunk of the lead.

Just then somebody hollered out "You're a legend, Tiger!" Trying, buddy. Trying.

He dropped a perfect (read: safe) shot onto the 12th, the Lindsay Lohan of golf holes -- short, drop-dead gorgeous and hellatrouble. And what does he do? Three-putts it. That's the easiest green to putt on the whole course!

He comes to the easy par-5 13th and doesn't birdie it for the first time in his past 10 tries. What are the odds?
He strikes one of the most goosebump-perfect 6-irons in his life on 15 to within the length of a felled parking meter, and then blows it. It's like climbing Mount Everest and then falling while taking the picture.

He tapped in the miss for a birdie there and a share of the lead again and yet he looked like a guy whose cat just shot his dog. Had to be the most glum leader of the Masters in history.

He hits a Mozart shot at 16, and misses the putt. From there, he slumped home.

First thing he did is take his frustration out on CBS interviewer Bill Macatee.

Macatee: Do you feel like you played well enough to win?

TW: Right now, I'm 1 back. Let's see what happens.

Macatee: Do you feel like you're back in the thick of things now?

TW: I'm 1 back, let's see what happens.

You half expected the next exchange to be:

Macatee: Have you ever eaten a live turtle while skydiving?

Tw: I'm 1 back, let's see what happens.

"I should have easily shot 3 or 4 under on the back nine," he finally told a group of reporters afterward, bathed in sweat. "I was right there in the thick of it."

At this point in his comeback, he's doing everything great, except interviews and putting, which he seems to be doing with a fettucini noodle. Six 3-putts. One hundred twenty putts for the whole week. Sometimes, Steve Stricker will go TWO weeks without that many putts.

These were tiddlers he missed. The one at 15 he missed Saturday was no longer than a baby's arm. The one at 12 Sunday was just slightly longer than a roll of quarters.

If I didn't know better, I'd say all this TMZ and divorce and watching millions circle the drain is giving him a case of … (whisper this part) … the yips.

If not, then he really is close now. What the country will do when he wins -- which is going to be soon -- who knows? America will forgive anything if it comes with a big sparkly trophy.

The scoreboard will say that Tiger Woods is still trapped in the longest losing streak of his pro career. He's still handcuffed without a major since the summer of '08.

But at least on this one Sunday in Augusta, he seemed almost free.

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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "SportsCenter" and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.

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