AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods is never satisfied unless he wins, and that was the case Sunday at warm and windless Augusta National Golf Club. After a rocky start, he battled back to shoot a 3-under-par 69 and tied for fourth, five strokes behind winner Phil Mickelson in the 74th Masters Tournament.
"Unsuccessful," he said of his performance afterward. "I didn't get the job done."
Others will argue it was a fine first step for the world's top-ranked golfer. After being away from the game for almost five months, Woods shot four consecutive subpar rounds in his return to professional golf.
"I felt very uneasy on every shot I hit out there," said Woods of Sunday's round. "I tried as hard as I possibly could to post a number and give myself a chance. I really dug deep to find something, and that's something I'm pretty proud of."
Woods has a laundry list of things to work on.
"Well, I got to be able to shape the ball both ways," he said. "Today I had a two-way miss, and it's kind of tough to play when you got that, when you don't know which way it's going to go. I'm going to take a little time off and kind of re-evaluate things."
For the record, Woods has won the Masters four times and hasn't finished worse than sixth since 2004.
Paired with K.J. Choi of South Korea for the fourth consecutive day, Woods began the final round tied for third place at 8-under, four strokes behind Lee Westwood, and received a nice ovation when he arrived at the first tee.
But despite spending an hour at the range Saturday night with swing coach Hank Haney to smooth out some kinks, Woods snap-hooked his drive into the ninth fairway. Woods hit a high fade over the trees just short of the green, chipped to the back fringe and two-putted for a disappointing bogey.
At the par-5 second, Woods found the fairway and hit his second shot in the right greenside bunker. He left his third shot in the sand, then blasted two feet from the hole to save par.
Woods drove accurately at the par-4 third. Trying to play aggressively, his sand-wedge approach skipped over the green and he did well to save par, holing a nine-foot putt.
For the third time in the tournament, Woods bogeyed the 233-yard, par-3 fourth. His 3-iron came up short-right of the green. Woods chipped eight feet beyond the hole and lipped out the left-to-right putt.
At the par-4 fifth, Woods caught the fairway bunker off the tee and had no choice but to punch out into the fairway. He hit his third shot 12 feet past the hole and two-putted for a bogey.
Woods hit an 8-iron to the 166-yard, par-3 sixth, the ball stopping on the front edge of the green. He nearly holed the 35-foot uphill putt, grazing the left edge of the cup.
Just when it appeared Woods was out of contention, he responded. After finding the right rough at No. 7, he hit a towering 8-iron that landed 25 feet left of the front-right pin position, and the ball fed toward the hole and fell in for an eagle. The resilient Woods raised both arms and smiled for the first time all day.
"I hit a cut 8-iron," he said. "Used the slope and got lucky, and it went in."
Looking to ride the positive momentum, Woods missed the fairway left at the uphill, par-5 eighth, but drew a good lie. He hit a 3-wood to the right fringe of the green and elected to putt from about 50 feet. Woods picked the right line, but the ball scooted six feet by the cup. Looking confident, he made the birdie putt.
Woods continued his improbable comeback at the par-4 ninth, where he hit a long drive and spun a sand wedge seven feet below the hole. He rolled in the birdie putt to make the turn in 1-under 35 and climbed to 9-under for the tournament, three shots behind Westwood and Phil Mickelson.
At the par-4 10th, Woods popped up his tee shot but found the fairway. He hit a long iron approach from 220 yards that finished in the middle of the green. Woods gave his uphill, 25-foot birdie attempt a good run, but the ball slid left, and he settled for a par.
Woods nearly pulled off a great escape at the par-4 11th. He pushed his drive into the pine trees on the right and wound up in pine straw. From there, Woods tried to punch a low iron through a narrow opening but hit a pine tree. He hit a brilliant third shot over the trees and finished five feet from the hole but was unable to convert his par putt.
Still smarting from the miss, Woods flew an 8-iron into the back bunker at the par-3 12th, then blasted out 15 feet past the hole to the fringe. Knowing another dropped shot would probably doom his chances, Woods sunk the par putt.
Woods blooped a high 3-wood off the tee at the par-5 13th and had to lay up 74 yards short of the green. From there, he nearly holed out a sand wedge, the ball spinning across the edge of the cup. Woods poured in the eight-foot birdie putt to keep his slim title hopes alive.
Woods gave himself another great birdie opportunity at the par-4 14th, where he hit his approach shot six feet left of the hole. However, he missed his birdie try, then rushed his short par attempt, lipping out, and sustained a bogey.
At the par-5 15th, Woods rebounded quickly. He hit a good drive down the left side of the fairway, then drilled a 5-iron approach shot 15 feet below the hole. When he reached the green, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
He returned the favor, sinking the eagle putt.
After lengthy two-putt pars at 16 and 17, Woods made a nice closing birdie at the par-4 18th hole to finish at 11-under 277.
"I was trying to get back to even par at the turn, and I actually did one better, which was nice," he said. "But I still was pretty far out of it. The guys were making birdies on the easier holes and for most of the day, I was four, five, six back. So it's a long way to climb, and I still was making mistakes out there. I made too many mistakes."
Woods prides himself on consistency and felt good about his opening rounds of 68-70.
"I felt everything was pretty good for the first two days," said Woods. "Then I putted pretty poorly yesterday, and I hit a lot of good putts today."
Woods hit 10 of 18 greens in regulation, his worst average of the tournament, but his putter heated up. After using 31, 28 and 30 the first three rounds, he needed only 24 on Sunday. And that included a three-putt, one of four during the week.
The rough start Sunday did not sit well. That said, he worked hard to control his anger and played the last 13 holes 4-under.
"I think people are making way too much of a big deal of this thing," he said. "I was not feeling good. I hit a big snipe off the first hole, and I don't know how people can think I should be happy about that.
"I hit a wedge from 45 yards and basically bladed it over the green. These are not things I normally do. So I'm not going to be smiling and not going to be happy.
And I hit one of the worst, low, kind of low quack hook on five. So I hadn't hit a good shot yet. I'm not going to be walking around there with a lot of pep in my step because I hadn't hit a good shot yet."
Choi thinks Woods is closing to regaining top form.
"I don't think he was that far off," he said.
Did Woods feel a sense of relief to get through his first tournament of the year?
"Yeah, I don't have to play with K.J. anymore," he laughed.