Woods looking back to his best
Win at Doral on Sunday evening moves world number two closer to Sam Snead in career titles
Tiger Woods waits on the 18th green alongside his caddie Joe LaCava during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. Photograph: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
On the second hole at the Blue Monster on Sunday, Tiger Woods drained a 19-foot putt for birdie. When at last the applause died down, Graeme McDowell stood over a 7-footer for birdie that suddenly looked twice as long. He rolled it in to remain three strokes behind Woods, and as he walked off the green, he made eye contact with a friend and said, “We’re not playing for second place here.”
McDowell’s mettle was moving, albeit misplaced. McDowell, who opened with a birdie, could be forgiven for believing that pluck could pull him through in a final-round duel against Woods. At the 2010 World Challenge, McDowell came from four strokes back, the same deficit he faced at Sunday’s start, to tie Woods, whom he then dispatched in a playoff.
But the Woods he beat then was not the same player who grabbed a share of the lead in the first round of the Cadillac Championship and held onto it like a guard dog to a pant leg. After four years of rehabilitating injuries and then his swing, Woods is playing — and especially putting — like the player who averaged six tour titles a season in the three years before McDowell turned professional in 2002.
With a closing one-under-par 71, Woods claimed his 76th PGA Tour title, and his first World Golf Championships event since 2009. At 19-under 269, Woods finished two strokes ahead of Steve Stricker, who posted a 68.
Rory McIlroy, the world number one, who opened the tournament feeling lost because of a faulty swing, finished with a 65, the second-lowest round of the day, which catapulted him into a four-way tie for eighth at 278.
While McIlroy marvelled at what a difference a week can make, Woods, the world number two, reflected on how his fortunes have turned in the last year. In the final round of this tournament last year, he withdrew on the 12th hole because of a recurring Achilles ’ tendon injury.
“It’s nice to be healthy,” Woods said. “I was struggling there for a while.”
Woods has won 5 of his last 19 official tour starts dating to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his next start after his 2012 withdrawal from this event. This year, he has won two of his three stroke-play appearances on tour, but he laughed when it was suggested that his four-stroke victory at the Farmers Insurance Open and Sunday’s victory were stress-free.
“Stress-free?” Woods said, laughing. “Did you not see 18?”
On the 18th, a par 4 with teeth as sharp as ever, Woods drove into the rough, flirted with the water on his approach and settled for a bogey after a chip and two putts. Mickelson also bogeyed the hole, while McDowell carded a six.