It wasn’t to be at the Masters. Or the U.S. Open. Or the British Open. Or so many other majors over the past decade. It turns out it wasn’t to be in the PGA Championship on Sunday, either. But maybe it was enough to see Tiger Woods turn back the clock and make a serious run at his first victory in a major since 2008.
This Tiger, still the darling of the gallery, was greeted with cheers as he almost skipped up the steps into the clubhouse and gave the affectionate crowd a big thumbs up as his day ended and it was apparent that Brooks Koepka was going to win. It was Koepka’s second major victory of the year and third overall.
Still, throughout the day, it had been pretty clear what the gallery wanted, with “Let’s go, Tiger” chants cutting through the heavy St. Louis humidity. The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins pointed out that in the three previous rounds combined at Bellerive Country Club: “Woods has had just four birdies on the back nine. Four birdies in 27 holes over three days. He’s got to change that. Can he hit the gas?”
Initially on the back nine, the answer was an earsplitting yes, until Woods ended up with a bogey on a heartbreaker of a putt at 14 that circled the cup and remained on the turf. But then the Woods of old, not to be confused with the old Woods, reappeared at 15, where his 150-yard second shot landed five feet from the cup. The easy birdie dropped him to 13 under and a par on 16 kept him there while the Koepka was moving to 16 under and battling Adam Scott.
Woods’s tee shot on 17 was the stuff of nightmares, sailing along the edge of a creek yet luckily not falling in. Woods then found a bunker, but his shot for the pin sailed about eight feet long and he settled for par.
On 18, it came down to Woods needing a miracle and help from Koepka and Scott behind him. Of course he closed it out with a birdie that put him at 14 under, tied with Scott in second place and two strokes back of Koepka. Scott bogied No. 18 to fall to third in the final standings.
“I didn’t think he had a hope in hell of winning a major again,” Nick Faldo admitted on CBS, “and now you’d have to say he does.”
This makes two majors in a row now in which Woods has been in contention, a year after back surgeries made him wonder if he’d ever play again. “These fans were so positive all week. I can’t thank them enough for what they were saying out there and what it meant to me as a player,” he told CBS’s Amanda Balionis. “I was in contention the last two major championships and I would never have foreseen that a year ago. I’m just so thankful to be here.”
Remember the steely-eyed, charging Woods, the one who would raise his club as a putt made its way to the hole? He made an appearance with his 10-footer for birdie at No. 13, finding the cup and pulling him to 13 under.
After a delay to reset and repaint the hole at 12, Woods refocused and sank his four-foot putt for birdie, getting to 12 under.
You can be forgiven if you wondered if maybe a victory wasn’t meant to be at times Sunday. How else to explain what happened with Woods’s 28-foot birdie putt on No. 11? It hung on the lip for dear life and refused to dive into the cup, leaving Woods with par. (It was a moment straight out of “Caddyshack.” Cue Kenny Loggins.)
Woods has played the front nine in this tournament at 10 under, but is 2 over on the back nine. He began the final back nine with a par effort on No. 10, remaining at 11 under and hoping that someone ahead of him stumbles.
After a strong start, Woods began to struggle on the par-four fifth hole, starting a stretch in which he seemed to need a GPS to find a fairway. That streak continued on the par-four ninth hole, where his ball found the cart path. Playing out of it required a strong hook shot to the left to avoid two bunkers and darned if he didn’t pull it off.
Topping it off, he sank the putt for a birdie (his fourth on the front nine) that put him at 11 under, two strokes off the lead as he makes the turn. Of course, this has been where any thought of a Tiger resurgence has ended this summer. Will this time be different? Can he close?
The real troubles started on No. 5, where he smacked the ball into the gallery. Somehow, he emerged, although his ball found the rough alongside the green. He sent the ball four feet from the hole and converted the tap-in to remain at 10-under.
He lost a stroke on the next hole, though, dropping his first bogey of the day on No. 6. And on 7, he managed to convert for par and remain in a gaggle of golfers at 9-under. If Woods can get back to finding the fairway, he could make a real move here. The gallery, a roaring swell as it follows him from hole to hole, certainly is eager to see it happen.
With a birdie at No. 8, Woods moved back to 10-under, somehow hanging in there despite his lack of familiarity with the fairways for a stretch.
Woods just missed reeling off three straight birdies at the start of play. He missed only on the first hole at Bellerive Country Club when his putt stubbornly refused to fall. With birdies on the second and third holes and a par on No. 4, he was at 10-under.
Of course, the story of the tournament for Woods has been his play on the front nine over the first three days. He leads all golfers at 10-under; it’s the second nine that has been problematic.
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