Tiger rally gives fans a real thrill
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.