NASSAU, the Bahamas — Tiger Woods raised his putter in celebration, so sure was he that his 40-foot birdie effort would be swallowed by the cup on the third hole of his final round of the Hero World Challenge. When the ball came up short, Woods dropped the club.
Woods closed with a four-over-par 76 at Albany Golf Club to finish 15th in a 17-man field at four-under 284, 14 strokes behind the wire-to-wire winner, Hideki Matsuyama. Before the event, when the prevailing question was whether Woods’s balky back would allow him to finish four rounds, that result would have been seen as an unqualified success.
But by Sunday, the 40-year-old Woods had raised expectations significantly, coming away with a birdie on 19 holes across the first three rounds — Matsuyama had a birdie or better on only three more holes in the same span — and briefly getting to 11 under par in his third round. As Woods warmed up for his final 18, some of the fans who had come to witness his return engaged in their own premature celebrations, giddily wondering out loud how often he might win in 2017.
Over the final 18 holes, a persistent wind whipped the facade off Woods’s game. He struggled off the tee, with his irons and around the greens. Anyone in need of a reality check only had to watch Woods play the par-5, 595-yard sixth hole. After his first two shots, Woods was short of the green. He bladed his next shot, chunked his fourth, chipped to 6 feet and missed the putt, carding a 7.
Woods made double bogeys on two par-5s on Sunday and was worse than par on two of the five par-5s for the week.
“I played the par 5s, quite frankly, awful,”…