PGA Championship officials were gearing up for a battle royale at TPC Harding Park on Sunday night with 11 players within three shots of Dustin Johnson’s lead but Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were notably absent from the large group of title-chasers.
Nor did the pair of former multiple PGA champions threaten to muscle in on the party as their weeks petered out faster than the Marine Layer that shrouded the San Francisco municipal course in cloud for most of their early-morning rounds.
In fairness, both Woods and McIlroy carded their best rounds of the week, a three-under 67 for the American, 68 for the Irishman but it was too little too late and the pair will each have been justified in leaving the Bay Area feeling things could have been so much better.
For Woods, 44, it was perhaps to be expected, having played just 72 competitive holes since the restart two months ago, a sign of the fickle nature of his long-standing back problems. The two-under-par 68 he shot for the first round last Thursday had promised much for the 15-time major winner but back-to-back 72s were more of a reality check.
Woods began his final round with the familiar Sunday red accompanied by the black snood that has featured throughout this week in this cool corner of California.
Also joining him, or so it seemed, were the putting woes that have been a feature of his tournament, just his second start since the return from lockdown two months ago.
Woods had been struggling with the pace of the greens but had insisted it was not switching from his trusty major-winning putter for a newer, slightly longer-shafted model. Instead, he explained on Saturday night, it was more his inability to read the putting surfaces and strike the ball accordingly. He had also admitted he was running out of time to catch Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 majors and that ticking clock could well have been in his mind as a missed birdie chance from inside 12 feet at the first hole of the final round.
Woods, though, would soon be up and running, with birdies at the fourth, fifth and seventh holes, the last of which came from an 11-foot putt that took into the red numbers that had been his objective for the day.
Yet there was plenty of scrambling also and this was far from vintage Woods. Bogey came at the 251-yard monster par-three eighth and the three-time PGA champion did well to save pars after missing greens at the par-five 10th, the 11th, and 12th only for his chipping to come to the rescue.
Rewards came with birdies at 14 and 17 but Tiger would finish with a whimper not a roar, missing fairway on the dogleg final hole then green on the way to a bogey.
One wonders what another week of tournament golf would have done for Woods coming into the week and his response Sunday night to what had encouraged him about his 21st PGA Championship experience seemed to underline that point.
“What I got out of this week is that I felt I was competitive. If I would have made a few more putts on Friday early on, and the same thing with Saturday, I felt like I would have been right there with a chance come today,” Woods said.
“It didn't happen, but I fought hard, and today was more indicative of how I could have played on Friday and Saturday if I would have made a few putts early.
“That's golf. We lose way more tournaments than we win… but overall, I think I had one three-putt for the week and I had no doubles, and that's always something that you want to do going in throughout 72 holes of a major championship.
“Unfortunately I didn't make enough birdies, and I'm not there with a chance come this afternoon.”