AUGUSTA (Georgia) • At a golf tournament, a player dies not from a single shot but from a thousand cuts.
A missed fairway, an over-hit approach, a bad read on the green; they leave the perpetrator not dead but dying.
Three-quarters through his 20th Masters, Tiger Woods was that man. He had an even-par 72 for an aggregate four-over 220.
That was 18 shots behind third-round leader Patrick Reed, who held a three-stroke lead over four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy (65), after a 67 for a 202.
Still in the tournament but as participant, certainly not contender.
The younger Woods would have railed against this presumption, answered it with a steely glare.
3RD ROUND (selected, USA unless stated)
202 Patrick Reed 69 66 67
205 Rory McIlroy (Nir) 69 71 65
207 Rickie Fowler 70 72 65
208 Jon Rahm (Esp) 75 68 65
209 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 69 70 70
210 Tommy Fleetwood (Gbr) 72 72 66, Bubba Watson 73 69 68, Marc Leishman (Aus) 70 67 73
211 Justin Thomas 74 67 70, Jordan Spieth 66 74 71
212 Dustin Johnson 73 68 71
216 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 73 71 7
217 Li Haotong (Chn) 69 76 72
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That's not who he now is.
Instead, the former world No. 1 was happy for interviewers to remind him that just six months ago, he thought he would never play again and now he was at the Masters and staying for the weekend.
"It's incredible to be able to play golf again," he agreed.
Adversity, his companion through the first three days of this Masters, was sitting on his shoulder whispering about the need to see the big picture.
Somebody asked if some of the bad shots were down to the wind.
"No, it was me. I didn't hit the ball very good," he said, before going into detail about his irons being awful, and that he couldn't control the distance, the shape or the spin.
This is the 42-year-old Woods, a man who came to the tournament with the old determination to win, but armed with the mental tools to deal almost nonchalantly with the disappointments.
Now an analyst for the Golf Channel, David Duval spoke for many when putting Woods' performance into perspective.
"We all want him to do well but there is a competitive rustiness and as fans, we have to give him time," said Duval.
There is nothing fanciful about Duval's prediction. Woods was 12th in the Honda Classic, second at the Valspar Open and fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the lead-up.
Those results said he was ready to do better at Augusta than he has done, but Augusta is good at defying expectations.
The wayward drives and poor approach shots that have hurt Woods can be corrected.
Most difficult for Woods to overcome is a problem of his own creation, having inspired a generation of players who are taking the game to uncharted levels.
He helped created the monster that may devour what is left of him. But don't presume it, for that would deny the essence of his greatness.
A year ago, he was in a dark place. His back was fried. His lumbar fusion surgery involved replacing a disc with a bone graft, allowing two vertebrae to grow together.
Remarkably it's given him a second golf life.
THE TIMES, LONDON