Tiger Woods Masters Return: GM Verdict. We assess the 14-time Major winner's much-anticipated return to Augusta National and the Masters

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Tiger Woods Masters Return: GM Verdict

March 2017. Tiger Woods announces he is not “tournament ready” and misses the Masters for the third time in four years. Shortly afterwards he announces he has undergone spinal fusion surgery, and whilst it’s labelled a success, it’s yet another setback. Not for the first time we’re left wandering whether we’ll ever witness his greatness again. This is even before his mental state is questioned when, following surgery, he’s arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Related: US Masters Leaderboard

It’s important to consider this backdrop when assessing his performance at this week’s Masters. That he was able to tee it up at Augusta given his back surgery was quite remarkable. Indeed, on the eve of the tournament, Woods labelled himself a ‘walking miracle’.

However, tee it up he did, so how do we rate his performance? As disappointed as Woods was not to be in contention on Sunday afternoon, the week has to be deemed a big success. Rounds of 73, 75, 72 and 69 saw the 42-year-old finish on a one-over total. He cited his iron play as well as poor putting as the two reasons for his lacklustre performance, but there were plenty of signs that he’s heading back in the right direction.

His final-round 69 provided more than enough evidence that he’ll be competitive enough to challenge for titles this season, even if he couldn’t gain any momentum to get back under par for the week. That was very much the story of his tournament – a lack of momentum.

Tiger Woods Masters Return: GM Verdict

Tiger Woods in action during round one of the 2018 US Masters [Getty Images]

Having battled impressively to card a 73 on the first day – a round that could have been several shots worse – he could only tread water thereafter, at least until the pressure was released and he found more precision on Sunday. Perhaps the writing was on the wall when he slumped to four-over just past the midway point of his second round. Having opened with a bogey and failing to birdie the par-5 2nd, he doubled the par-4 5th after bouncing into bushes and had to wait until the 13th for his first birdie, by which time he’d already lost significant ground on the field.

Tiger Woods Masters Return: GM Verdict

Woods continues to battle in round two, but he got off to a slow start [Getty Images]

Much was made of his erratic driving in the first round. However, despite the odd loose drive to the right, his form with the big stick was quite impressive and certainly not the reason why he finished way back in the field. Speaking after his final round he referred to having the ball “on a piece of string” in that department, before again referring to poor iron play and putting.

Woods escapes the sand during his third round at Augusta [Getty Images]

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However, there were plenty of highlights, too, including a three on the par-5 15th, his solitary eagle of the week. There were also a number of ‘Tiger specials’, evidence that he can still manufacture the extraordinary. His clear irritation that he wasn’t in the hunt for a fifth Green Jacket speaks volumes about how far he’s come in such a short space of time. That he’s drawing criticism from some quarters for finding himself way off the pace is remarkable given his extended absence from competitive golf. Not long ago that would have been expected. Now, we’re expecting more.

So, there weren’t many fist pumps this week, but considering this was just his sixth tournament of the year, it was still an impressive return to the Major stage. With every tournament, Woods is getting stronger, fitter and more like the old Tiger. Roll on the US Open.