Tiger Woods came up just one shot short in the end and so had to settle for second place in the Valspar Championship over the fiendishly difficult Copperhead course in Port Harbour, Tampa, Florida, last night.
He finished on nine under par, a stroke behind Paul Casey, who closed with a brilliant 65, and played so well as to convince even the most sceptical that he has fully recovered from a serious back injury and is a major figure in the game once again.
In this form, Tiger, who drew a record crowd to the Copperhead and received a massive reception from the fans, is sure to be a serious contender for a fifth green jacket at the Masters at Augusta in three weeks time.
The 42-year-old shot rounds of 70, 68, 67, and 70 to tie for second with American Patrick Reed and left the 18th green with a broad smile that demonstrated just happy he was with the way the week had gone.
He went into the final day on eight under par in a tie for second place with Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker, one behind the surprise leader, Canadian Corey Conners, and was immediately on terms with a four at the long opening hole.
It was to be his only birdie of the day. He gave that shot back at the difficult short third but refused to allow that setback to put him off his stride and was still eight under after reaching the turn in level par 36.
He had missed only two out of seven fairways to show that his long game was in excellent shape and he knocked in a few tricky putts from five and six feet to prove that his touch on the greens was close to being as good as ever.
By then, though, the challenge for the title had intensified even more with the lead taken over by Paul Casey on 10 under after 14 and another Englishman, Justin Rose, in second spot on his own at nine under.
Bedecked in his favourite final round red shirt so reminiscent of his great days of winning 14 major championships and a myriad of tournaments all over the world, major surgery has helped Woods to shake off the serious back injury that looked to have finished his career a couple of years ago.
His ball striking continued to impress even if he wasn’t getting his approach shots close enough to make the birdies that would have put him in with a chance of outright victory.
That three-putt was to prove a great pity for Woods who finally picked up a first birdie since the first when he rolled in a spectacular putt from all of 15 yards on the short 17th for a birdie two to get to nine under and a stroke behind England’s Paul Casey who finished with a 65.
And that’s how it finished when Woods could do no more than make par at the 18th.
But that massive smile on the runner-up’s face left nobody in any doubt but the Tiger was back!
Ireland’s five-man challenge for the title was reduced to two at the halfway stage when Rory McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington, and Seamus Power all missed the cut.
McIlroy, a man desperately in need of a decent performance after a disappointing run in recent weeks, and Harrington will be in action once again this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Florida, and Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry are also in the field having performed respectably enough in the Valspar.
Both are still a long way from qualifying for the Masters at Augusta National in three weeks time.
McDowell matched the strict par at Copperhead with rounds of 73, 72, 68, and a closing 71 yesterday to finish in a tie for 40th.
Lowry was two shots worse off in a share of 50th after promising opening rounds of 71 and 70 followed by 73 and 72 over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Matt Wallace believes he played some of the best golf of his life to secure his second European Tour title at the Hero Indian Open.
Wallace defeated Andrew Johnston in a play-off at the DLF Golf and Country Club in New Delhi after the pair had posted final rounds of 68 and 66 respectively to finish on 11 under par.
The 27-year-old won it at the first extra hole, hitting a monster drive down the 18th and then a fine second shot to enjoy the luxury of two putts for the crown.
Wallace, who had found himself three over through eight holes of his opening round, said: “I’m ecstatic. I just played some amazing golf.
Ever since being three over through eight at the start of the week, I’ve played some of the best golf of my life and to do it in that style at the end there capped it off.”
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