It was 21 years ago that Tiger Woods pulled off what was surely his loudest golf shot. He had a hole-in-one on the 16th hole of the Phoenix Open, the famous stadium-style par-three hole around which an estimated gallery of 30,000 can watch the action unfold while they’re imbibing their favourite brew. When Tiger’s tee shot with a 9-iron disappeared into the cup for an ace during the third round, it seemed as if it really was raining beer. The noise was deafening; a ramped-up version of the din Bubba Watson encouraged the crowds to make as he hit from the first tee during the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah. With a huge helping of alcohol on the side.
Woods didn’t win that week. That honour went to Steve Jones, who shot a scintillating 26-under-par total of 258 to win by 11 shots from Jesper Parnevik. That would be the sort of thing we’d get used to seeing Woods do, not least at Augusta National less than three months later when he won his first major championship, the Masters, by 12 shots.
Woods was back making noise on the PGA Tour yesterday, at the Valspar Championship played over the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort at Palm Harbor, Tampa, Florida. Again he didn’t win but did he create some noise! He played in the second-last group out on Sunday, with Brandt Sneaker, ahead of Justin Rose and an unheralded Canadian, Corey Conners. As in his heyday, the fans went with Woods, meaning the last group were playing in the golfing equivalent of a vacuum.
Starting a shot off the pace, Woods birdied the opening hole to get into a tie for the lead. He bogeyed the 4th and then…well, nothing of significance until he drained a 40-footer for a two on the 17th. That meant he needed a birdie at the last to force a playoff, but his uphill effort from 30-feet never threatened to deny victory to Paul Casey, of whom more in a moment.
Woods has won 79 times on the PGA Tour, although not since the Players Championship in May 2013. Back then he seemed a shoo-in to beat Sam Snead’s record of 82 tour titles but latterly that seemed an only slightly less forlorn hope than him getting from his present standing of 14 majors to Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18. Not any longer. The prospect of him winning four more majors seems hugely improbable (that would be Rory McIlroy’s career to date), even if he is now joint-second favourite for the Masters, but if Roger Federer can recently win three Grand Slams in the space of 12 months, having previously not won one for five years, who can say that Woods has no chance of bagging major No. 15 at Augusta in just under one month’s time?
Woods came into the new year ranked 656th in the world. He arrived at the Valspar ranked 388th. He left Tampa ranked 149th. From Thursday he’ll be at Bay Hill, where he has won eight times previously – in 2000-3, 2008-9 and 2012-3. Snead’s tally suddenly seems within range again. We’ll be watching eagerly.
On Friday evening, Casey had said: “I want Tiger to play brilliant golf and and win again because I want these kids to see what we had to deal with for a long, long time. I want to win this week but if I don’t I want Tiger to win.” In the event, it was the 40-year-old Englishman’s first win on the PGA Tour since 2009, brought about by a closing 65. “The guy [Woods] has got more victories than all of us put together,” said Casey. “He made it look easy for such a long time and it’s not. I won a few times in Europe  but to get my second victory on the PGA Tour is emotional. I’ve worked hard for it.”
As for Woods, his verdict on himself was simple. “I keep getting just a little bit better. I had a good chance at winning this tournament. A couple of putts here and there and it could have been a different story.” Which, right there, is the story of tournament golf.
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