AUGUSTA — He wore a red shirt again Sunday after eliciting familiar Augusta roars Saturday.
But if opinion was divided on Tiger Woods’ comeback status entering the Masters, the gap is now longer than a Dustin Johnson tee shot.
The galleries were typically enormous, several beer cups deep in many places, to watch Woods and Rory McIlroy on Sunday. Freight train frontrunner Jordan Spieth didn’t draw a bigger crowd.
Overall, Tiger didn’t disappoint: 69 on Friday, 68 on Saturday with a much-maligned short game turned useful.
Followed by a painful Sunday, when a 39-year-old man either gutted out a 73 to finish 13 shots back on the way to better days or nearly fell apart, literally, in one of his last hurrahs.
Woods jammed his wrist playing an awkward second shot off a tree root hidden under pine straw at No. 9. He winced his way around the back nine.
No one knew what to expect from the former Best Golfer on the Planet playing for the first time since quitting 11 holes into the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Feb. 6 with back pain. Woods missed the cut in his only other tournament this year, the Waste Management Open in Phoenix.
Smart money on the over-under on Tiger making the cut had to be no.
Hah! Take that — a top-20 finish — you doubters (tied with old pal Sergio Garcia for 17th place).
And if you’re not ambivalent enough about the comeback, Woods announced that he will take another month off — and that he feels “very pleased” about his game.
“Considering where I was at Torrey and Phoenix, to make that complete swing change and the release pattern, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done,” he said. “To make my short game my strength again is pretty sweet. That’s something that I worked my butt off to get to that point.”
Tiger before and after the injury Sunday looked vulnerable, uncomfortable, human.
Which, of course, isn’t intimidating to competitors or threatening to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
Tiger Woods might have a lot more 68s left in him, but you never know when a wrist, his back or a knee will give out.
“It’s going to take some time,” said Woods, a four-time Masters champion who didn’t play at Augusta last year. “(But) I was pleased with the way I was able to hit the ball this week. I’ve got my pop back. And then on top of that, I’ve got my short game back.”
Much was made of a nicer Tiger this week. Though he doesn’t acknowledge every other gallery “Good luck” as Phil Mickelson does, there have been cordial moments throughout his career, from his wide-eyed stay in the clubhouse Crow’s Nest as a Masters rookie to occasional witty chatter.
But rarely has anyone seen such unguarded Tiger tenderness as during Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest when he played with daughter Sam and son Charlie serving as caddies. Girlfriend Lindsey Vonn helped supervise.
If only Woods would let us in on the comeback conversations he must have with Vonn, the Olympic skier who has bounced back from severe knee injuries.
The same Tiger with 14 major titles is No. 112 in the World Golf Rankings, right between Tomohiro Kondo and Hennie Otto.
The ranking will go up, though not necessarily the stock.
Paul Azinger, the former Ryder Cup captain and PGA champion, was among the skeptics when he talked about Woods’ “over-engineering” just before the Masters.
“Sadly, for whatever reason, Tiger sacrificed a winning swing at the altar of a perfect swing, and he may have sacrificed a winning body at the altar of a perfect body,” Azinger said. “It’s been hard to watch that undoing.”
It was fun to watch Woods shake off a first-round 73 and go out and jump into contender conversation.
Harder to watch a 39-year-old man with past injury problems shake that wrist in agony Sunday while carding another 73 to slip back in the pack.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.