THE margin between success and continuing frustration for Tiger Woods at the Majors was the width of a flag stick at Augusta.
Woods effectively lost four shots when his approach shot to 15 last Friday cannoned back off that stick and into the pond in front of the green. Shave those strokes off his 72-hole score at the Masters and it lifts Tiger to nine-under, placing him in the play-off with Australian winner Adam Scott and formidable Argentinian street fighter Angel Cabrera.
Fanciful? Not in the least.
Woods was on course for a birdie four at 15 until his nicely struck shot hit the flag stick. Instead, he made bogey six; then was penalised two more strokes on Saturday morning for an illegal drop.
Woods even had to endure a whirlwind of controversy as he prepared for his third round after officials felt unable to disqualify him for a transgression they'd investigated and grossly misjudged before he'd signed his card the previous day.
All things being equal, he'd have gone into Sunday tied for the lead with Cabrera and Brandt Snedeker instead of busting a gut in his effort to come from four strokes back.
Woods has never come from behind on Sunday to win a Major and he found the going even tougher on this occasion as Augusta's greens played so slow.
Woods – and the game of golf itself – would have been better served if he had withdrawn on Saturday morning when his transgression came to light.
Had he donned the Green Jacket on Sunday, it would have been indelibly stained.
A final-round 70 left Woods tied fourth with Marc Leishman on five-under and he hasn't broken that number in eight rounds at the Masters.
His putting at Augusta wasn't up to the invincible standard of his recent Tour victories at Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill as he grappled with unusually slow greens.
However, his game looked sharper at the Masters than at any other time in the Grand Slam arena since his return from disgrace and self-imposed exile in April 2010.
For the first time in years, it is possible to predict with confidence that Woods' long drought at the Majors will soon end.