Though the names on the leader board provided a constant reminder that he was one of many on the edge of contention, relevant but not extraordinary, the noise on Sunday at Augusta National kept announcing another message about Tiger Woods.
His unofficial title, People's Champ, remains unchallenged.
What seems apparent after Tiger's latest failed attempt to win a major -- none since 2008 and no Masters triumph since 2005 -- is that his disappointment is mirrored by that of those who follow him.
His frustration very clearly stems from not winning. Ours is directly linked to not seeing him win.
Despite the roars that deservedly accompanied Australia's Adam Scott and Argentina's Angel Cabrera as they hurtled toward a twilight playoff, won by Scott, neither presents a threat to Tiger's status as the most captivating presence on a golf course.
When Woods rallied on Sunday, as he did on the back nine, the gallery responded with thunderous cheers.
When he failed, as he too often did, the response was a collective and audible groan.
Woods never got the lead on Sunday at the Masters, and didn't really get very close -- despite three birdies on the back nine. He shot a 2-under 70, finishing in a tie for fourth, four strokes behind Scott and Cabrera, mocked by putts that usually were too soft to overcome greens slowed by rain. Once again, every whiff of Tiger optimism evaporated with Tiger reality.
Yet he was enough of a threat to stir senses and quicken pulses, engaging the gallery and, undoubtedly, millions viewing on national television.
That we still care about Tiger, perhaps as much as ever, is noteworthy given the mostly downward trajectory of his life in recent years. He invited scandal upon himself, and it cost him his wife and children and his carefully manipulated image. He has been cherished and detested, entitled and ridiculed, revered and lampooned. He will, in the mind of some, forever hold the title of World's Worst Husband.
On the course, though, Tiger is recognized as a golfer apart from all others, a semi-human engine driving the game and dictating its trends. He is, once again, atop the world rankings. He still is a unique presence not only in golf but in all of sport.
Moreover, his narrative has added complexity. His domestic life seemingly stabilized with skier Lindsey Vonn, Tiger now represents a comeback story in the making. The circle would have been complete if he finished Sunday wearing a garish green jacket and a 44-tooth smile.
Many yearned for that. Yes, we have a soft spot for those who persevere.
That further illustrates why we haven't abandoned him, and why we won't anytime soon. Not now, not this year, not as long as Tiger is the one golfer capable of mesmerizing a nation of observers.
With all due respect to the tyros seeking to fill any vacuum created by Tiger's personal fall -- the Jason Days and Rory McIlroys and Rickie Fowlers, none of whom has reached Tiger's heights -- they are merely excellent young golfers. They are too vulnerable to create the level of mystique generated by Woods.
They are brilliant young actors on golf's stage. Tiger is the game's movie star. Who else can claim to compare? No one is remotely close in terms of talent and skill and charisma and mystique.
The shadow he casts over golf is bigger than that cast by Michael Jordan over basketball or Muhammad Ali over boxing. And beyond the egoist fantasy of any current NFL star.
Tiger figured he'd have to shoot 65 on Sunday to win. He was right. He shot 70. The controversy on Saturday -- being hit with a two-stroke penalty for an illegal drop -- had much less impact than his disobedient putter.
Yet fans, devoted and casual, will keep an eye on Tiger. The networks will keep licking his heels. And we'll continue following him, certainly at any major, especially if he's anywhere near the leader board.
How do you turn away from the possibility of a deliciously magical moment only Tiger can deliver?
Woods may never rule as he once did, but we're in no mood to take chances. We don't want to miss it if he does.