Then Sunday happened.
Woods entered the final day of the tournament four shots off the lead and two ahead of his rival and final-round partner Phil Mickelson. This is typically Woods’s turf, with his good-luck red shirt, but he “just could not get comfortable” while Mickelson was administering a knockout punch with a relaxed, formidable round that extended his recent mastery of Woods. Mickelson shot a 64 and won the tournament; Woods finished in a tie for 15th with a 75. (Only four golfers had a higher score Sunday.)
“I just feel very inspired playing with him,” Mickelsons said. “I love playing with him. ... He brings out some of my very best golf.”
It has been 29 months since Woods won a PGA Tour event and, over the last five years, Mickelson has had his number. The shift has been dramatic, but Mickelson is philosophical about it. “It’s only been the past five years. Before, I got spanked pretty good. Let’s not forget the big picture here; I’ve been beat up,” he said. “But the last five years, I’ve been able to get some of my best golf out when we play together.”
Over the weekend, signs of the old Woods were evident in most areas of his game — with one major exception. While he was sporting his trademark red, the man whose finishing ability on Sunday’s made him the game’s most dominant player, simply couldn’t seal the deal. As Tracee Hamilton wrote:
But Tiger Woods as we knew him – the Woods who was at his best on Sunday afternoons, the Woods who won all his majors while entering the final round either leading or being tied for the lead – that Woods may be gone.
That Woods made planning a weekend easy for those who loved to watch his icy stare and icier game. Those fans would check the third-round leaderboard, see Woods at the top and try to finish their errands by about 3 p.m. on Sundays.
Sunday, he didn’t enter the final round in the lead, but he was only four shots off after a third-round 67. A victory didn’t seem impossible, and indeed, he was one shot out of the lead on the sixth hole. And then he came unglued, carding five bogeys on his way to a 75, finishing tied for 15th. His playing partner and sometime nemesis Phil Mickelson beat him by 11 shots in the final round.
“I love playing with him, and he brings out some of my best golf,” Mickelson said. “I hope that he continues to play better, and better, and I hope that he and I have a chance to play together more in the final rounds.”
Those words had to hurt Woods more than the final score. There was a time when Mickelson folded like a road map – remember road maps? – when paired with Woods. There was a time when Mickelson’s putts would have been all over the greens, not Woods’s. Sunday, however, Mickelson – whose putter has often been his nemesis – was like Ty Webb in “Caddyshack”; everything was going in. And Woods’s putts? Well, they weren’t.
Nevertheless,the PGA has to be giddy at the prospect of having Woods and Mickelson back near the top of the game. And from the looks of it, so are fans of the sport. With Phil and Tiger paired on Sunday, the tournament saw its television ratings nearly double from a year ago. As the AP reported:
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods together in the final round has produced the highest rating for CBS Sports at Pebble Beach in 15 years.
The network said Monday the overnight rating from final round was 5.1 with a 10 share, which was up 96 percent from last year. It was the highest rating for the final round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am since a 5.8 with a 13 share in 1997, when Mark O’Meara held off Woods and David Duval.
Mickelson and Woods were in the next-to-last group. Mickelson shot a 64 for a two-shot victory, while Woods was 11 shots worse than Mickelson and shot a 75 to tie for 15th.
More from Washington Post Sports
Tiger Woods needs to tinker with his game
Phil has Tiger’s number. Bring on the majors.
Sunday was Phil Mickelson’s day
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am leaderboard