Tiger Woods hasn't won a major championship since 2008, a streak that continued on Sunday at Augusta after he finished tied for fourth with Marc Leishman—four shots back of 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott.
How can Tiger win major No. 15 this season?
The most recent example of his work sits at Augusta, where his 11 top-five finishes at the course place him in familiar company with Jack Nicklaus—the only man higher than Woods in that specific category, major championship wins and wins at the Masters (six).
Tiger did not break 70 (two under) in four rounds at the Masters this season.
Much has been made of the illegal drop (via the New York Times) that cost Woods two strokes on the 15th hole on Friday, and at the end of the day his round was exactly four strokes worse than the winner (Scott at nine under).
With a better break on the first shot that hit the flagstick and bounced into the water or a correct drop on the course, we could be talking about a Tiger Woods green jacket triumph right now instead of another disappointment.
Then again, hindsight is always 20/20, and Tiger had enough chances to make putts and climb back into the fray on the final two days to consider his final round nothing short of disappointing if you judge him solely on his expected finish.
Tiger was in contention heading into the final day.
If you put it all into perspective, Woods was as close on Sunday as he's been to winning a major since the 2008 win at the U.S. Open. That being said, he still didn't do enough to win his fifth green jacket and 15th major, which makes him just like the other 59 guys going home without a win on Sunday.
Looking ahead to the rest of his schedule, the three wins to start the 2013 season are now meaningless. In the here and now, here's what Tiger has to do better to bring home his first major championship in five years.
The number of putts Tiger botched at Augusta are almost too many to count.
Specifically, he had chances on the final two days to make up ground and even go ahead in the standings before faltering to a three-under finish on Saturday and his five-under mark on Sunday to close it out.
Take a look at his Saturday and Sunday scorecard (via PGATour.com).
On Saturday, he was at one-under through seven holes and had a chance to add another birdie to his total on the par-five eighth. We know how important par fives have been to Tiger in Masters tournaments (124-under coming in), and this was no exception.
With a chance to make birdie, Woods rimmed the putt out, followed it up with two bogeys on holes No. 9 and 11 and had to scratch three straight birdies together just to finish at the three-under mark that he held entering the final round.
On Sunday, the struggles continued.
No. 2 was another chance for birdie that went awry. No. 6—which he birdied on Thursday but never again—was another fringe spot to add a birdie. He had eagle chances on No. 13 and No. 15 but left both putts short—a hallmark of his day.
Maybe most disappointing of all, Woods had a chance to move to six-under on No. 16 but couldn't finish off an incredible tee shot with two holes to play.
In all honesty, it was the easiest putts (by Tiger's standards) that gave Tiger trouble.
As Dan Jenkins of Golf Digest noted on Twitter, the time frame is limited on Tiger getting back to his old putting ways:
Was asked if Tiger will beat Jack's 18 majors. Up to his putter. You can't keep making putts forever, and he's older than 37 in golf years.— Dan Jenkins (@danjenkinsgd) April 14, 2013
With the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and Open Championship all coming up, Woods' biggest area of need heading into this next phase of his season will be finding more confidence on the green to avoid leaving so many putts short in upcoming weekends.
Looking at the tournament stats from Woods' weekend (via Masters.com), he didn't find the fairway often enough to contend on Sunday.
However, Augusta is a forgiving course if you can add some power to your swing and find good angles to the green, making it less important to find the middle of the fairway on every tee shot.
Which part of Tiger's game does he need to improve the most?
That being said, 31-of-56 won't get it done.
At 55.36 percent, Woods was well below the course average of 65 percent, and his first two tee shots of the afternoon on Sunday limited him from finding the bottom of the cup with a birdie when it would have been extremely nice to have some cushion heading into the middle part of the front nine.
While Woods' iron game (47 of 72 greens hit in regulation) was much more proficient, his work with the driver was anything but indicative of how powerful and accurate he can be when dialed in out the box.
The other three majors are less forgiving (think British Open) when it comes to letting your drive sway from side to side, making it imperative to pick spots better and find a way to hit the ball where you need it to go.
Clutching Up on Sunday
While Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera traded shots in the playoff, Woods was in the clubhouse.
It has nothing to do with either man being better than the world's No. 1 player.
Tiger just wasn't clutch when he needed to be on Sunday.
Ignore the fact that Tiger played bogey-free golf on the back nine in the final round. While impressive in its own right, you can't miss two straight eagle opportunities on key holes, miss another on No. 16 and fail to add at least one stroke to your total on No. 17 or 18 and expect to win a major while trailing by three strokes as you walk the final hill.
It just doesn't happen.
Just to play devil's advocate, think about if one of Tiger's eagles (13 or 15) or relatively easy birdie putts (2, 6, 16) finds the bottom of the cup. Woods is at eight-under when Scott is on the final hill, and he might not hit that epic putt to take the lead. Maybe Cabrera doesn't hit the approach of a lifetime to the high side of the hole with a birdie being a necessity to stay alive.
It's unfair to speculate when the results are already in the books, but just two of those five shots would have changed the entire outlook of the game.
It's not like Tiger's not hungry (as reported by Ron Sirak of Golf Digest):
I played well. I certainly missed my share of putts today, actually this week. Mentally, I'm hungry. I always give you that hunger, but seriously, I'm like hungry. I certainly had a chance.
Hungry or not, Tiger wasn't clutch when he needed to be just that.
Then again, maybe we're being too hard on Woods. If the shot on 15 missed the pin to the left or the right, he would sit at nine under and take part in said playoff. Maybe he would have a green jacket (which would be No. 5).
As noted by Justin Ray of ESPN, Tiger has improved from what he was when this "comeback" started:
Silver lining for Tiger Woods: didn't break par in any weekend round in majors last year. Did so Saturday & Sunday here.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) April 15, 2013
Yet, the best players of all time don't get concessions. We can't give them breaks, because doing so without the presence of injury or extenuating circumstances would undermine their very place at the top of the sport.
Michael Jordan didn't get any breaks. Neither did Wayne Gretzky or Babe Ruth, or anyone coached by Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry or Don Shula.
To be honest, they wouldn't ask for breaks.
That's what set Woods apart in the early part of his career. He made every big shot asked of him, clutched up in key moments and kept others off his heels by making putts and shots that no one else could make.
It might be unfair, but he has to find that same magic to start winning majors again.