Woods edges closer to 80th victory
March 11, 2018
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods drains a monster birdie putt on No. 17 at Valspar
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – This may not be the old Tiger Woods, but it was easy to forget that as his long birdie putt curled toward the hole.
Woods had struggled all day to hit his irons close or strike his putts with the proper pace, but that first victory was now within reach after his birdie at the second-to-last hole.
“All you want is a shot going up 18,” his caddie Joe LaCava said. “Now I’m thinking, ‘We have a shot,’ so I’m pretty jacked up.”
It didn’t matter that the Copperhead Course’s 18th hole was the toughest of the day. Woods has made a career out of pulling off improbable shots at the most opportune times. He’d proved it again with that unlikely birdie from 44 feet.
Woods hit a long-iron off the final tee, leaving himself a 7-iron into the final green. He was in between clubs, as he was throughout the final round, but took the shorter one to leave himself an uphill attempt at birdie. Even he couldn’t connect on a second consecutive putt of some 40 feet.
His par on 18 left him one shot behind Paul Casey, who claimed his first PGA TOUR title since 2009. Woods’ 70 on Sunday left him in a tie for second with another player clad in red and black, Patrick Reed.
It was still Woods’ best finish since a runner-up finish at the first event of the 2013 FedExCup Playoffs, THE NORTHERN TRUST.
“I had a chance today,” he said. “Unfortunately, I just didn’t quite feel as sharp as I needed to with my irons and played a little conservative because of it.”
Tiger Woods' interview after Round 4 of Valspar
Woods could only manage two birdies in the final round. He started the day by reaching the par-5 first hole with a long-iron second shot. His tap-in birdie tied him for the lead. He had to wait 16 holes for his next one.
He came up short, but his first trip in more than two decades to Florida’s west coast gave fans the glimpse of Woods’ greatness that they came to see. The tournament had to bring in buses from Miami and Orlando, add more than 6,000 parking spots and saw ticket sales jump more than 35 percent.
Even his peers, happy to have Woods back on TOUR after his dark, injury-riddled days, were rooting for his success.
“It was … a week where Tiger played some good golf and (we) got to see some amazing stuff and hear the roars,” said Paul Casey, the tournament’s winner. “I said a couple times if I don't win this thing I actually want Tiger to win it.”
It was the first time Woods started a Sunday this close to the lead since the 2015 Wyndham Championship. He fell out of contention there with a back-nine triple-bogey. This time, Woods was in it until the end despite a sub-par ball-striking round. He hit 14 greens Sunday but needed 32 putts, his first time all week that he exceeded 30 putts.
“I was just grinding and try to put myself in there,” he said.
Woods only had three birdie attempts from inside 10 feet Sunday, and two of those were on par-5s he reached in two (with irons). He three-putted the par-5 14th for par, though, and it seemed to end his chances.
Woods walked after his 2-iron shot that ended up on the front of the green. He wanted to leave an uphill birdie putt but was overly cautious and left himself 8 feet for birdie. The miss left him two back of Casey with the Copperhead Course’s intimidating Snake Pit ahead of him.
Woods played them 1 under but it wasn’t enough. Sunday was his worst performance of the week in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green (+0.65) and Strokes Gained: Putting (-0.95), despite gaining more than a stroke with his putt at 17.
He missed a 13-foot birdie putt at the par-5 fifth hole after missing a 5-footer for par on the previous hole. He hit a long-iron within 10 feet on the 228-yard, par-3 eighth hole but lipped out that putt and missed a 16-foot birdie putt on 13 before missing his 10-foot attempt at the par-5 14th.
“He hit it pretty decent, but I wouldn’t say great,” LaCava said. “Basically, it was the speed of the greens that caught him.”
Woods blamed his iron play, but not his nerves, for falling short.
“I’ve been here before a few times,” he said.
Woods keeps getting closer and closer to his 80th win. He’s been inside the top 15 at the end of each of his past seven rounds. Woods was four off the lead entering the weekend of The Honda Classic. He twice got within four shots of the lead in the final round.
He was never outside the top 10 at the Valspar Championship, even though this was his tournament debut. He played with Brandt Snedeker in the second-to-last group on both Saturday and Sunday, starting the final round one shot behind rookie Corey Conners (who shot 77 to fall to T16).
Woods was seeking his first victory since the 2013 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, and trying to win one week after Phil Mickelson claimed his first win since that 2013 season. It was not to be.
Woods’ victory quest will continue next week at a course where he’s been winning for nearly three decades. He won the first of his six USGA amateur titles there at the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur and he shared a victorious handshake with Arnold Palmer eight times as the winner of Palmer’s tournament. This will be his first appearance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard since his 2013 victory. He’s won four of his past five starts at Bay Hill.
“I believe my game is progressing,” Woods said. If it continues, victory does not seem far away.
Tiger Woods' slo-mo swing is analyzed at Valspar