AUGUSTA -- Tiger Woods capped his remarkable return to the Masters with a final-round 78 on Sunday and said his 13-over par 301 was one of the greatest achievements of his career.
"For not winning an event, yes," the 15-time major champion said when asked if the performance ranked among his best. "Yes, without a doubt."
Woods, 14 months removed from a rollover car crash that left him with injuries so severe he feared he might lose his right leg, didn't challenge for a sixth green jacket on the weekend.
His back-to-back 78s on Saturday and Sunday were his highest-ever rounds at Augusta National and his 13-over par total his highest 72-hole score at the iconic Georgia course by eight strokes.
He was 47th when he walked off the course to cheers -- set to be his worst Masters finish apart from a missed cut as an amateur.
But the week was never about the numbers.
"I don't think people really understand," Woods said of the arduous and still on-going rehabilitation of his lower right leg, surgically repaired with rods and pins and plates.
"The people who are close to me understand. They've seen it. Some of the players who are close to me have seen it and have seen some of the pictures and the things that I have had to endure."
Woods hadn't played a tournament since the 2020 Masters, delayed by the coronavirus pandemic to November of that year, and hadn't even walked 18 holes four days in a row since his accident.
His difficulty negotiating the hilly, 7,510-yard course was evident in Wood's deliberate, sometimes noticeably stiff gait. Occasionally he used a club as a support, gingerly bending his knees only slightly to read Augusta's dangerous greens.
When it was over, however, Woods knew he could withstand the rigors of a major championship.
"It's one thing to play with my son at a hit-and-giggle, but it's another thing to play in a major championship," Woods said. "A lot of different things could have happened, but 14 months, I'm able to tee it up and play in the Masters."
Woods, clad in his traditional Sunday red, again drew throngs of spectators. The gallery gave him a massive ovation as he arrived at the 18th green, a weary-looking Woods lifting his cap to salute them.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," Woods said of the support and affection that poured from fans all week.
He opened his campaign with a one-under 71 that featured three birdies and two bogeys.
Woods flirted with his first Masters missed cut as a professional on Friday, but bore down on the back nine to card a two-over par 74 and head into the weekend for the 22nd straight time at Augusta.
The third round was death by a thousand putts -- at least that's how many Woods said he felt like he hit on a cold, blustery Saturday that saw him drop irrevocably out of contention.
A birdie at the par-five second proved to be the lone real bright spot of his final round that included five bogeys and a double-bogey -- and a surprising par save at the 13th where, with an azalea bush blocking his usual stance he took a left-handed swipe with an upside down club to get the ball onto the green.
- Masters meaning -
None of it mattered as he hugged his mother, Kultida, son Charlie and daughter Sam outside the clubhouse.
"This tournament has meant so much to me and my family, this entire tournament," Woods said. "The year I was born was the year that the first black man played in the Masters, Lee Elder. He was there when I won in '97. Twenty-five years later here I am playing again."
And this Masters, Woods indicated, is just the beginning. Despite the pain of walking, the unpleasant ice baths and other recovery treatments, Woods said that soon he expected to "get back after it" in the gym to strengthen his leg further.
"I've got some work to do and I'm looking forward to it," said Woods, who is projected to rise a few hundred places from his 973rd world ranking and could see more major action this year.
He has lifted Grand Slam trophies at two of this year's major venues, Southern Hills in Oklahoma, which hosts the PGA Championship next month, and St. Andrews, site of July's British Open.
In the meantime, the man who changed the game of golf with his Masters win in 1997 then won again in 2001, 2001, 2005 and in 2019, could reflect on another astonishing week at Augusta.
"Thankful," he said of his overriding emotion. "I keep saying it, but I am. I truly am."
© Agence France-Presse