AUGUSTA -- As Tiger Woods spoke Sunday evening at the completion of the Masters, his first tournament in five months, his words were muted by an incredible roar.
Just behind Woods, on Augusta National's 18th green, rival Phil Mickelson was in the midst of winning his third green jacket.
It was quite a scene for the two men who have defined American golf in the past decade-plus -- both having undergone emotionally wrecking years since they played together here on Sunday in 2009.
Woods is still working to put his life, both personally and professionally, in order in the wake of his sordid sex scandal. He's not quite there, but the work is in progress.
He shot 3-under 69 on Sunday to finish 11-under, five shots behind Mickelson.
"I tried as hard as I possibly could to post a number and give myself a chance," Woods said. "I really dug deep to find something and that's something I'm pretty proud of."
In reality, Woods had to do some deep digging to even show up here. Everyone wondered how the world's No. 1 player would emerge from his cocoon, the one constructed to shield himself from the backlash of self-indulgent and self- destructing behavior.
Woods openly said Monday that he'd return to golf, and the public eye, a different man.
He said he'd alter his attitude. He'd hearken back to the youngster who built an empire on Buddhist beliefs and a godly golf swing.
And away he went on a four-round ride that began with an airplane taunting him at the first tee and fans cheering him at the 72nd green.
A first-round 68 indicated that Woods would be no sideshow; he'd come to play.
His driver was leaky. His irons were pretty sharp. His putter ran hot-and-cold.
So, in other words, typical Tiger. And, as you'd expect, that was enough to get him in the hunt on Sunday -- all he (and CBS) could ask for.
Woods on Sunday shot his second-best score of the weekend, but he probably played his worst golf if you're examining the body of work in its entirety.
He was way left off the tee at No. 1, a sign of things to come. He popped up his tee shot on 2, later leaving a sand shot in a greenside bunker on the par 5.
Woods sculled a short wedge shot across the green at No. 3. He couldn't get up and down after a miss-hit on the par-3 4th. He bogeyed No. 5.
"I felt very uneasy on every shot I hit out there," Woods said.
His tee ball on the par-3 sixth was off line, causing him to bury his head without watching the shot.
"These are not things I normally do," Woods said. "I wasn't going to be smiling and happy about it."
Then came the seventh, and a glimmer of hope.
From the right side of the fairway on the 450-yard par 4, Woods hit his approach to the middle of the green. It trickled down a slope toward the hole -- and then disappeared inside for an eagle 2.
Woods flung his iron, raised his arms and a huge grin broke out across his face. It was the first semblance of a smile all day.
Tiger followed that with consecutive birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 to get to 9-under. Even at that point, though, Woods still trailed Mickelson and Lee Westwood by three shots.
A poor tee shot at 11 resulted in a bogey. He played the back-nine par 5's in 3-under, and he birdied the 18th, but Mickelson had long since scampered away with the tournament after stellar iron play at Nos. 12 and 13.
Still, Tiger's 11-under total is three shots better than he played here a year ago, when life seemed a heck of a lot more pacific for the planet's best player.
That was when missing cuts and putts was his biggest issue, and not what socialite or porn star was going to come forward as the next mistress.
By Sunday evening, it feels like it's about cuts and putts again. In many senses, things are returning to normal for Woods.
"I feel pretty good about my play this week," Woods said. "Overall, it was a good week."
When will you see Tiger again? Good question.
"I'm going to take a little time off," he said, "and kind of re-evaluate things."
Woods is headed back to his cave, the work still in progress.
Reach Travis Haney at email@example.com.