He saved his best for last. His last-round 69 included an eagle at the 15th that sent a huge roar around Augusta National. That happened just as the leaders were heading out. Tiger Woods has work to do be back in that position in a major championship. This, though, was probably the most both he and those foolishly lulled into thinking he could be a contender at such an early stage in his comeback could have expected.
The four-time Masters champion finished on one-over-par in the event’s 82nd staging. After having to dig deep to make the cut, he played a bit better over the weekend. He was four-under on the back nine in the final round before closing with a bogey. That looked as though it could deny him a top-30 finish. Based on his high standards here, it could be viewed as disappointing. Not in the circumstances, though.
The 42-year-old feared his career could have been over as recently as six months ago, after all. He only returned to action in December after undergoing spinal fusion surgery less than a year ago. He’d only played in five PGA Tour events in 2018 coming into here. It really was expecting too much to think this event could produce one of the greatest comebacks in sport.
“I think things are progressing,” admitted the 14-time major winner afterwards. “It was a little bit disappointing I didn’t hit my irons as well as I needed to for this particular week. You miss it just a touch here it gets magnified. And I just didn’t do a good enough job this week in that regard.
“But, overall, I’m five or six tournaments into it, to be able to compete out here and to score like I did, it feels good. To be able to just be out here competing again – if you had said that last year at this particular time I would have said you’re crazy. I had a hard time just sitting or walking. So now to be able to play and compete and hit the ball the way I did, that’s quite a big change from last year.”
Woods will now regroup for the US Open at Shinnecock Hills in July before making his first Open Championship appearance since 2015 at Carnoustie. Performances in those events will help determine whether he has to settle for a vice captain’s role in the Ryder Cup in France later in the year or where he would really like to be – in the thick of the battle.
“Take a little time off,” he replied to being asked about his immediate schedule. “Get back in the gym, start working on my body again. Get it in good shape. And get back at it again. You know, generally after this tournament I put away the clubs for a while. I usually take three to four weeks off, throughout my entire career, and usually the clubs are put in the closet and I just kind of get away for a while.
“The run up to this event is pretty hard and pretty gruelling. I pushed myself pretty hard to get ready. And I peaked at it four times over the course of my career and it’s tiring.”
By the sounds of things, Phil Mickelson is growing tired of playing a part in his downfall in these big events. He came in here with high hopes of becoming the event’s oldest champion at 46 but never got in the mix. Not even a closing 67 could help put a smile on Mickelson’s face. “The difficult thing for me is I continue to put a little bit too much pressure on myself in the majors now because I know that I don’t have a ton of time to win them, especially US Opens,” he admitted afterwards.
He needs that title, of course, to complete the career Grand Slam. “These next two US Opens, Shinnecock and Pebble Beach, give me two really good opportunities,” he added. “So I need to keep my game, get my game sharp, but I really need to be on those weeks and in the past I’ve been on at Shinnecock and I’m hopeful to do it again.”
Jordan Spieth, pictured, will also have a chance of joining some of the greats in the game when he bids to complete that career Grand Slam by winning the 100th US PGA Championship at Bellerive in Missouri. “I think that it’s one of those career milestones that set you apart from all players, that shows that you’re a complete player,” said Mickelson. “Rory and Jordan have got a lot of time. They won their majors very early in their career. I didn’t start until I was 33 and they’re not even close to that. So they will get it done. But I need to get it done soon.”
Ian Poulter, the last man into the 87-strong field after his Houston Open win the previous weekend, closed with a 69 that contained seven birdies. “I’ve had a great week, I’ve enjoyed it,” said the Englishman. “It would have been a fairytale to have gone close this week but it wasn’t to be. I just have to play well and stay fresh for next year and hopefully make sure I know I am coming back earlier so I can actually prepare.
“As excited as you are to go and play, with adrenaline and all that, you only realise you are tired when you are making sloppy mistakes. I’m going to shorten the schedule, for sure. Try and cut a couple of tournaments out and just try and plan a bit more for the rest of this season. I am in the right tournaments now, which is great as the pressure is off from that standpoint.”