AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods apologized. Sort of.
He behaved better. Sort of.
None of it made much difference.
The peace of mind Woods used to know every time he stepped on a golf course is gone, if not for good, then certainly for the rest of this Masters. He will never get that back, at least not completely. It's like Superman finding out kryptonite followed him to a new planet. Woods is never going to be worry free again.
Dozens of times, for more than two years running, Woods kept saying how close he is to putting it all together. He said it four more times in the span of four minutes after his round Saturday. A win at Bay Hill two weeks ago — his first in 30 months — suggested Woods finally might be. His play this week said the opposite. His spoiled-child routine a day earlier — a kicked club, a few mock swings in anger, a handful of curses — suggested he knew that, too.
"Am I conscious of it? No. Certainly I'm frustrated at times," Woods said after shooting even-par 72, three strokes better than his round Friday — with only one slammed club.
"I apologize if I offend anybody by that, but I've hit some bad shots. It's certainly frustrating at times not to hit the ball where you need to hit it. I certainly heard that people didn't like me kicking the club.
"But I didn't like it, either," he added. "I hit it right in the bunker. Didn't feel good on my toe, either."
Ditto for his reputation.
Grace was never Woods' strongest suit. Ambition was, and the gulf between what he wants and what he has to settle for has likely never been wider. When he returned to golf at the Masters in 2010, a few months after that fateful post-Thanksgiving slalom down the driveway of his Florida mansion, he vowed to respect the game. Back then, Woods had no idea it was going to be this hard.
"All this club dropping all the time, he seems disgusted," said Hank Haney, his former coach, whose recent book "The Big Miss" has kicked up a stir.
"I'm not there watching his shots, and he did some of that when I had him. But it seems to me he's doing it a lot more now. Still, the notion that he should just go out and play, or have fun, or somehow just play like he used to, is nonsense. I hear people say it all the time, in things I read, or on TV, and it's just total nonsense.
"He's always been mechanical. He was always thinking about his swing, about his short game, about one adjustment or another he was convinced would make a difference. With a lot of touring pros, it's a defensive mechanism. They can't let too many doubts creep in. But there's a big difference between a textbook swing and one you can take to the golf course.
"And for some reason, he can't make that transfer. ... The strange thing is that before this tournament, he was on a run of pretty good results. He's still going to win a lot of tournaments," Haney said finally, "but probably not as many as he used to."
Woods is at 3 over, 12 shots off the lead, farther behind than he's ever been at the Masters. Late into the night Friday, using a spotlight provided by the club, Woods went to the practice range and pounded shot after shot into the darkness. His coach, Sean Foley, crouched alongside and tried to track the flight of the ball.
Despite the extra work, less than 24 hours later, Woods found himself another four strokes in arrears. Asked whether another practice session was on his schedule, Woods replied, "I'm a little tired. Last night took a little bit out of me and certainly (so did) trying to put everything I possibly had into this round to get it back. I'm going to go back and go lift, work out and get ready for tomorrow."
Someone asked Woods what he would need Sunday to get back into the tournament, recalling that just a few weeks ago, when the arrow on his game was pointing up, he shot a 62 in the final round of the Honda Classic to finish in a tie for second.
"That would be nice," Woods replied, almost wistfully. "I don't know. I don't know what the score is going to be because it's going to be dependent, obviously, on what these guys do today. If somebody shoots 4 or 5 under par and they're up there in the lead, it's going to be tough to go get 'em. But anything can happen. That's the thing.
"You can be 4, 5, 6 back going into the back nine and still win the golf tournament. Anything," he said, "can happen."
With that, Woods turned and headed for the parking lot, where he climbed behind the wheel of a black Mercedes SUV and headed for the exit. If he really believed he could still conjure up some of the old Masters magic, the mournful look on his face said otherwise, calling to mind a line from an old blues standard that goes, "I might be better, but I'll never be well."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.