Tiger Woods stumbles late but shows signs he will be great again

Former world number one finished in 12th place as Justin Thomas took the victory

Tiger Woods tees off on the fifth during the final round of The Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photo: Jasen Vinlove/USA Today

Tiger Woods tees off on the fifth during the final round of The Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photo: Jasen Vinlove/USA Today

 

Patience, as we know, can be a virtue; and, now, we’re realising that Tiger Woods’ considerable tolerance in undergoing rehabilitation before returning to competition following his spinal fusion surgery has been worth every second, minute, hour, day, week, month and, yes, year of the process. He’s been a patient man, for sure.

Will he ever get back to his old, great self? Maybe not, but the evidence of his play at the Honda Classic – where Justin Thomas beat Luke List in a playoff to take the title – would provide sufficient evidence to indicate that there will be moments when Woods will do great things again, even if there times in yesterday’s final round when – like his tee shot to the 15th, the start of the Bear Trap – he showed human frailty.

Such frailty is okay, though. Woods’s return to competition has been a slow route, one where it seemed for periods of his rehab like there was often no light at the end of the tunnel. The truth of the matter is that Woods’s appearance in the Honda Classic, where he got onto the fringes of contention, in what was only the third tournament of his latest comeback, provided sufficient glimpses of his former self to excite.

Even Jack Nicklaus seemed taken with what he saw before him in the Honda. “I’m amazed at how well Tiger’s playing. I just think it’s fantastic. He’s swung very well. He’s playing well. It’s fantastic,” said the Golden Bear.

Justin Thomas plays a shot on the fourth hole on his way to winning the Honda Classic. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Justin Thomas plays a shot on the fourth hole on his way to winning the Honda Classic. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Unfortunately for Woods, he was mauled by the Bear Trap – that string of holes from the 15th to the 17th at PGA National, holes from Nicklaus’s design manual – to fall away and he signed for a closing round 70 for 280, level par. It was his best finish of his latest comeback, following a tied-23rd at the Farmers Insurance and missed cut at the Genesis Open. With three birdies in his opening eight holes of the final round, Woods – wearing his customary red shirt – looked like he had stepped back in time. Although a bogey on the ninth stopped his gallop, he rolled in an 18-footer for birdie on the 14th to head to the Bear Trap with a pep in his step. It was then that he stumbled, an aggressive tee-shot on the par three 15th plunging into the water (double bogey) followed by a bogey on the 16th.

But those setbacks were mere asides in the bigger picture. Rather than a glass half-empty attitude, Woods could take a glass half-full approach. This was definite progress, a step in the right direction and indications that there will be days and weeks when the old Tiger graces the fairways.

As Woods put it, “I’m making some tweaks in my golf swing but also trying to understand what this body can do. It’s not like it used to be. Those angles are gone. So I’ve had to make a little bit of adjustments here and there and I think I’ve done that, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of just kind of gradually building it together.”

After a tight final day it was Thomas who prevailed to take his first victory of the season after he overcame List on the first playoff hole.

Both men were paired in the final group with Thomas carding a 68 to match List’s total of eight under par, one ahead of Alex Noren and two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood who had led for quite some time before falling victim to bogeys at the 14th and 15th. List, who struggled early on with bogeys at the third and fourth which looked to have put him out of contention, made a back nine resurgence with birdies at the 10th, 13th and, crucially, at the 18th to force the playoff.

That was after Thomas had almost holed his third shot for eagle at the final hole but settled for the birdie four and extra holes.

With the light fading, Thomas nailed a beautiful second shot to the back of the green on the Par 5 18th and got down in two for a birdie which was enough to get the better of List’s par.

Rory McIlroy suffered a nightmare finish to his final round, running up a quadruple bogey seven on the par three 17th – after hitting two shots into the lake, initially his tee shot and then his next approach from the penalty drop zone - in signing for a closing 72 for 289, nine-over-par.

Shane Lowry saved his best until last, shooting a closing round 67 for 287 (jumping up 24 places to ried-49th). The Offalyman had six birdies and three bogeys in his round to complete a run of five straight weeks on tour. With no exemption into the WGC Mexico Championship, he has a week off before resuming play at next week’s Valspar championship.

Collated final scores & totals in the USPGA Tour The Honda Classic, PGA National (Champion), Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, United States of America (USA unless stated, Irish in bold, par 70):

272 Justin Thomas 67 72 65 68(Won on first play-off hole), Luke List 71 66 66 69

273 Alex Noren (Swe) 66 75 65 67

274 Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 70 68 67 69

276 Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 70 72 69 65, Webb Simpson 66 72 66 72

277 Jamie Lovemark 68 69 68 72

278 Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 71 72 69 66, Sam Burns 70 71 69 68, Kelly Kraft72 69 66 71

279 Dylan Frittelli (Rsa) 71 72 67 69

280 Tiger Woods 70 71 69 70

281 Derek Fathauer 73 72 71 65, Adam Scott (Aus) 73 72 67 69, Dominic Bozzelli68 73 71 69, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 69 70 71 71

282 Rory Sabbatini (Rsa) 69 69 71 73, Tom Lovelady 75 70 67 70, Jason Dufner69 72 70 71, Lucas Glover70 75 71 66, Cheng-Tsung Pan (Tai) 71 71 71 69, Greg Chalmers (Aus) 74 71 70 67, Scott Piercy70 70 71 71

283 Michael Thompson 76 69 70 68, Russell Henley 68 70 74 71, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 67 72 69 75, John Huh71 73 68 71, Tyler Duncan70 74 70 69

284 Daniel Berger 67 72 70 75, Adam Schenk 69 71 71 73, Scott Stallings73 70 70 71, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 70 72 73 69

285 Nick Watney 71 71 72 71, Chris Stroud 69 73 72 71, Chris Kirk71 74 72 68, Aaron Wise76 69 69 71, Roberto Diaz (Mex) 71 73 70 71, Brian Harman74 70 69 72, William McGirt71 71 74 69, Harris English71 74 67 73, Ben Martin70 71 70 74, Joel Dahmen74 71 73 67, Sergio Garcia (Spa) 72 70 72 71, Jimmy Walker76 68 74 67, Patrick Rodgers72 71 69 73

286 Scott Brown 72 70 73 71, Jim Furyk 72 70 70 74, Stewart Cink70 71 72 73

287 Peter Malnati 71 71 70 75, Gary Woodland 73 68 72 74, Keegan Bradley69 72 72 74, J.B. Holmes69 76 71 71, Shane Lowry (Ire) 71 74 75 67, Morgan Hoffmann67 73 74 73, Troy Merritt71 74 70 72, Ryan Moore70 73 70 74

288 Michael Kim 71 74 71 72, Andrew Novak 75 70 73 70

289 Rory McIlroy (Nirl) 72 72 73 72, Vaughn Taylor 73 71 74 71, Mackenzie Hughes (Can) 67 75 74 73, Anirban Lahiri (Ind) 73 71 71 74, Corey Conners (Can) 70 72 74 73

290 Hudson Swafford 73 69 68 80, Ollie Schniederjans 72 73 75 70

291 Matt Every 73 69 72 77

292 Martin Piller 69 76 75 72

293 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 71 72 74 76, Camilo Villegas (Col) 76 67 73 77, Tyrone Van Aswegen (Rsa) 72 73 73 75, Jonathan Randolph72 71 77 73

294 Harold Varner III 70 74 75 75, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven) 74 68 74 78

296 Ben Crane 68 75 72 81, Martin Flores 73 70 76 77

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