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A much different Sunday walk for Tiger Woods

As the next generation of history-making players prepare to complete the engraving of their their names into Masters lore, here’s a tip of the cap to Tiger Woods, who did what, in truth, was not required of him Sunday.

Relegated to the first pairing by virtue of his unprecedented implosion among the gusts and the heaving pines Saturday, the five-time champion who, by his own self-assured account, believed — asserted, anyway — he came into the day “right there” in the hunt for a Nicklaus-tying sixth green jacket, brought it all the way home Sunday, all the while bringing up the rear.

Good on him.

Having reset the record for consecutive cuts made with Friday’s 23-hole marathon that surely taxed his reconstructed body, Woods, starting the morning 22 shots behind leader Scottie Scheffler, went the distance, yet again creating history of a sort.

Arguably the greatest ever to have picked up a club, Woods — in his Sunday trademark red-over-black — ground out a final 18 before the brunch crowd arrived, flanked (and outplayed) by Neal Shipley, a delightfully long-haired amateur from Ohio State, who earned a magnificent tale to tell his grands.

Indeed, as low amateur (only amateur past the cut, for that matter), Shipley will have a Butler Cabin moment late this afternoon, long after Woods — whose frequent visits there suggested he had a key to the place — and son Charlie were packed and headed home.

Getting around on a fused right ankle — his push-off ankle — that strains other parts of his reconstructed right leg, Woods has the MRIs to beg off whenever he starts carding more double bogeys than a weekend muni warrior. If he’d played the medical impairment card Sunday, nobody who matters would have dared said a word.

Nonetheless, off he went early on the Masters’ final day, relegated to dew-sweeping duties at Augusta National, reaping what he’d sown when he broke free from Gary Player and Fred Couples in the consecutive-cuts-made logjam.

Some might murmur, “Be careful what you wish for.” Those who are wiser know better. That card bearing the final-round 77 alongside Tiger Woods’ signature should be enshrined in the Golf Hall of Fame. On a hushed Sunday in front of few witnesses, the player whose former brilliance was at once blinding and alluring allowed a rare glimpse of something different, yet unquestionably touching and ennobling.

Once upon a time, a phenomenal young Woods teed it up for fame, glory, uncountable riches, and a place on golf’s Mount Rushmore. Sunday morning, when he could have begged off with the blessings of those who climbed aboard his shoulders, Eldrick Tont Woods, an old man with a body that can trigger metal detectors, played a round with a youngster from Jack Nicklaus’ alma mater.

You don’t have to be an English lit major at Sarah Lawrence to appreciate the symbolism in that.

And so, while the generation inspired by Tiger Woods’ exquisite greatness was just then rising to start preparations over settling who’d slip on the 2024 green jacket proffered by reigning champ John Raum in Augusta’s slanting sunlight, the subject of their abiding reverence was, far, far from the spotlight he’d created, quietly closing the loop, for one reason and one reason only: Love of the game.

Make no mistake: There is exquisite greatness in that, too.

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