Hollywood’s best screenwriters couldn’t have scripted a more intriguing Sunday at PGA National.
As you all know by now, Tiger Woods had a special day — the kind that gives you goosebumps and was reminiscent of the decade or so when he dominated golf. The 14-time major champion shot a blistering 62, the lowest in the post-scandal era and the best final round of his career (but Brian Harman’s course record 61 still stands), to surge up the leaderboard and give himself a chance at forcing a playoff had Rory McIlroy flinched coming down the stretch at the Honda Classic.
Woods started nine shots back, but ended just two shots from the winning score of 12-under. He dropped a 25-foot bomb on No. 17 for birdie, followed by an epic fist-pump, like one from the good ol’ days. Then, he made an emphatic eagle on No. 18 — which brought about a double fist-pump — and ultimately finished tied for second with journeyman Tom Gillis, while McIlroy won the tournament and ascended to the top spot in the official rankings.
“It feels good, because, you know, I felt like I was close; I’ve been close to shooting this score, or scores like this,” said Tiger in his post-round presser. “And it was just a matter of time before things all fell into place, and I don’t know, maybe I just needed the wind to blow or something like that today to feel comfortable with it. But I felt very comfortable when the wind was howling out there, because of my performance in Australia, and it just felt good today.”
He said his second shot on 18 at PGA National reminded him of Glen Abbey in the final round of the 2000 Canadian Open. Woods hit a six-iron shot 218 yards from a bunker on the right side of the fairway to about 20 feet. He had to carry a large water hazard guarding the green.
“I was aiming at a tunnel on the left edge of the green and I was just trying to hit it and rip it up there,” said Tiger, referring to the sick 5-iron he hit into the 18th green. “You know, looking at it from the fairway, I was thinking, this is very similar to 2000 at Glen Abbey. I’m not going to fire at the flag, just like I didn’t there, but I just had that kind of feeling that I was going to put it right there on the center of the green and make a putt. And I just happened to start it a little further right…worked out perfect.”
With the wind gusting earlier in the day, Tiger was one of the few — along with Lee Westwood, who posted a seven-under 63 — that played well. He said the blustery conditions reminded him being in the Down Under for the Australian Open and the Presidents Cup. (Tiger really, really loves Australia.)
It’s a process, as Tiger often reminds the press. Well, the pieces finally fell together on this special Sunday.
“Overall, my finishes have been pretty good since Australia,” said Tiger. “And it was just a matter of keep building, keep sticking with it, the process is coming, I’m hitting more solid shots, I’m making more putts, my speed is getting back. It’s just everything is coming, and I just need to keep progressing, just keep sticking with it, and it’s going to turn.
“Today was one of those days where I got a lot out of the round. Like for instance, I got a couple good breaks, I thought I lost a little bit on the wind on 9, ended up in the first cut. I tattooed it down 18, it’s 330 over the bunker and I hit it, what, 340 or something like that, and ended up being where I could play it. I thought it might be in the rough where I couldn’t play it and have to lay up, but ended up in a spot where I could play it.”
Playing partner and former rival Ernie Els said Tiger looked like the pre-scandal Tiger.
“On the second hole were just talking and I said, ‘You know what? I remember being your lucky charm, you (SOB),'” Els said. “He just smiled. To me, this was the old Tiger back, the guy that I remember playing against and coming in second to all those years. I told him, ‘That’s more like it.’ He didn’t miss a shot.”
No doubt Tiger’s 62 was thrilling and a huge step in the right direction, but I’m not going to get too excited until he plays like that when he’s in contention or wins a (real) tournament. Good news is he’s close.
“I just have to stick with the process, and it’s coming,” said Woods. “Each tournament, it’s getting better. I’m hitting more good shots, more quality misses. They are not what they used to be. Each tournament I’ve progressed, I’ve gotten better. And it’s just a matter of time before I put it all together for an entire tournament.”
We’ve heard that before — at Pebble Beach when I thought for sure he was going to win by five. That was a letdown. So I’m just trying not to set myself up for (more) disappointment, but I’m pretty sure just about everyone wants to see Tiger play well and contend week-in and week-out.
“It’s just building,” he said. “I was putting the pieces each and every day. I wasn’t that far off.”
But the most important thing he said?
“I had a great time out there.”
He was smiling on the golf course for the first time all week.
(AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)