Tiger rally gives fans a real thrill

Daily Mail - - Golf - DEREK LAWRENSON Golf Cor­re­spon­dent at Saw­grass

Surely never be­fore in Play­ers Cham­pi­onship his­tory had a man with seem­ingly so lit­tle chance of win­ning cre­ated so much ex­cite­ment.

yes, Tiger Woods was on the march once more yes­ter­day, fol­low­ing up his won­der­ful 65 in the third round with another spell­bind­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of his class. By his side, Open cham­pion Jor­dan Spi­eth looked just another golfer by com­par­i­son.

Woods be­gan the fi­nal round still 11 shots be­hind the ru­n­away leader, Webb Simp­son, and who makes up that sort of deficit?

By the time the 42-year-old stood on the 13th tee, hav­ing picked up six shots with some dazzling artistry and be­witch­ing putting — he had nine one putts in the first 12 holes alone — the deficit had shrunk to just four. The noise Woods was gen­er­at­ing was off the charts.

Tied 68th when he be­gan his third round early on Satur­day morn­ing, Woods had moved up to tied sec­ond with New Zealan­der Danny lee and fel­low Amer­i­cans, Jason Dufner and Jimmy Walker.

The one thing he could not af­ford, how­ever, was a mis­take and he was a lit­tle un­for­tu­nate in suf­fer­ing one at the 14th, where his par putt lipped out.

Some­what sur­pris­ingly, no player in PGA Tour his­tory has ever lost a seven- shot lead with a round to play, which just hap­pened to be the ad­van­tage the im­pres­sive Simp­son en­joyed.

It was one thing to shoot 63 on Fri­day when in the zone but the 32-year-old’s nerve­less 68 on Satur­day to stretch his ad­van­tage by two more strokes might have been still more ad­mirable.

Still, the for­mer US Open cham­pion must have been feel­ing the ten­sion given he had not won any­where for five years, and bo­geys at the 8th and 10th sug­gested as much.

He was clearly not swing­ing or putting with the free­dom that had been the hall­mark of his first three rounds. But he re­sponded ad­mirably with a birdie at the 11th and with five holes to play he re­mained five in front. He was on the brink of a most wor­thy suc­cess, not to men­tion a $2mil­lion prize.

Not that the ma­jor­ity of another sell- out 50,000 crowd were watch­ing, of course. Four groups in front were Woods and Spi­eth.

This was another big test passed for Woods in this come­back for the ages. Could he fol­low up his low­est scor­ing round for five years with another stel­lar show, only this time on Sun­day af­ter­noon? He cer­tainly an­swered that one with a front nine played in 32 strokes, in which he hit seven out of nine fair­ways and needed only 10 putts.

So good was he on the greens it came as some­thing of a sur­prise when he missed from 10ft for a birdie at the 10th. Nor­mal ser­vice was re­sumed with birdies at the 11th and 12th, be­fore that mo­men­tumkiller at the 14th. Nei­ther did he birdie the par five 16th and now the holes were run­ning out.

Big­ger pic­ture, though, and this mar­vel­lous week­end surely sets him up for some­thing mo­men­tous this sum­mer.

The sub-plot of who fin­ished the week as world No 1 was prov­ing some­thing of a pot-boiler, after No 2 Justin Thomas posted a 66. It piled the pres­sure on present in­cum­bent Dustin John­son, who needed to play the fi­nal six holes well to hold on.

A fine clos­ing round of 66 fea­tur­ing six birdies in a row at one point saw Justin rose im­prove a lit­tle on his cu­ri­ously bad record at Saw­grass.

Mind you, his cad­die Mark Fulcher was left think­ing about what might have been. ‘It could quite eas­ily have been a 62,’ grum­bled his loyal cad­die Mark Fulcher, as rose had five ea­gle putts and never holed any­thing over 6ft.

On the pos­i­tive side, two of rose’s next three starts are at events he has won in the past and where the world No 5 fan­cies his chances of earn­ing oo­dles of rank­ing points. ‘I do think the next month of­fers a real op­por­tu­nity,’ he said.

rose was not the only one to en­joy him­self early on. US Open cham­pion Brooks Koepka be­came only the sec­ond man to reg­is­ter an al­ba­tross at the par-five 16th. It was the defin­ing mo­ment in a course record­e­qualling 63 that hinted broadly at the ex­cit­ing play to come.

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