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As Woods uncorked more crooked shots on Friday, his mood darkened. He cursed into TV microphones for all the world to hear and drop-kicked a nine-iron after a shoved tee shot on the par-3 16th. (He later apologized.) After the round Woods went to Augusta National's massive practice area, hitting balls even as an employee removed the wooden tee markers from the ground. It was fruitless as Woods closed the tournament 75-72-74, playing the par-5s so poorly it was as if he had never seen them before. (For the week he finished one under on the holes he had played in 125 under par in his previous 15 visits to Augusta National as a pro.)
After three Masters victories in his first six years on Tour, Woods has won a lone green jacket in the last 10 tournaments. His Masters résumé is fraying in front of the watching world. A string of course changes since 2002—the new pines, the longer holes, the tighter driving areas—have slowly eroded his advantage. If Augusta National is not wholly Tiger-proofed, it is certainly far less Tiger-friendly. The course that was supposed to be Woods's conveyer belt to 19 majors no longer exists.
"I get out there," Woods said of his swing on Sunday, "and I don't trust it at all."
Woods's struggles were a stark reminder that the gulf between Tour events and majors remains wide and turbulent. In June, at the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Woods will mark the fourth anniversary of his last major win, prime playing years that he will never get back. And at a not-so-young 36, he can't help but hear the ticking clock.
McIlroy is not too young to understand that opportunities must be seized. One shot out of the lead at the halfway point and paired with García on Saturday, McIlroy seemed distracted by the Spaniard's negative mojo in majors.
After the pair birdied the par-3 12th—the first birdie of the day for each—Garcia welcomed McIlroy with a hug. It was sappy, more appropriate in a Wednesday pro-am. Both men were resigned to their fates.
Greg Norman and Ernie Els spent their best years being deflated by failure at the Masters, only to press ever harder for a victory that never came. McIlroy has now experienced the feeling twice. Last year he blew a four-shot lead in the final round with a closing 43. This year he went out in 42 on Saturday.
"That would have added up to 85," McIlroy said. "Seems like every year I come here, I throw a bad nine holes out there."
That's a trend to shake soon and to shake young, lest McIlroy's pursuit of a green jacket become a long and unfulfilled quest.