It never got close enough to sound the alarm, but Tiger Woods certainly made the final round of the 2018 Players Championship interesting for a while on Sunday. Woods, who started the third round 14 strokes back of 36-hole leader Webb Simpson, followed his 7-under 65 in Round 3 with a 3-under 69 in Round 4 to finish T11 at 11 under for the week. It's Woods' fourth top-12 finish on the PGA Tour in his last six events.
After making birdie at five of his first 12 holes (and playing the front nine in 62 strokes over the weekend), Woods pulled to within four of Webb Simpson (who would go on to win). There was a distant flicker of hope that Woods could possibly come back, although you may have needed Rickie Fowler's binoculars to see it. It didn't last long. Woods as faltered a little bit from an unlikely position. After pumping a 354-yard drive on the tough par-4 14th and leaving himself just 111 yards to the hole, he made an unfortunate bogey and that was pretty much it for his day.
Woods played tine final four holes in 2 over after hitting his tee shot on the island green into the water and making his first double bogey there since 2003. It was a 65-69 weekend and Woods' best finish at this tournament since winning it in 2013. It's just his seventh top-12 finish ever at this tournament.
Following last week's T55 finish there wasn't much confidence that Woods could take on a beast like TPC Sawgrass where ball-striking is premium and every part of your game is tested. But after two somewhat shaky days in which he made the cut on the number, Woods put it together in the last 36 holes and gained strokes on the field in every single category (driving, approach shots, around the green, putting) in Rounds 3 and 4.
His ball-striking in particular was incredible on the weekend. Woods gave himself 25 (!) looks a birdie inside of 20 feet over the final 36 holes. He made 13 of those, and there's your formula for playing world class golf at the highest level in the deepest field of the year.
"I played so well this weekend," Woods told Steve Sands of NBC. "Unfortunately, I just didn't cash it in. God, I hit the ball good. I didn't miss a shot and only ended up with a 69."
He added: "Today, I was pretty far back. I was trying to somehow give myself a chance with 4-5 holes to go. I got it down to four at one point and felt like I needed four or five more coming in to maybe have a chance. It just didn't happen."
Woods played mistake-free golf down the stretch and nearly erased a two-touchdown lead on the weekend. If not for Simpson's historic week, Woods would have been right in the heart of one of the biggest tournaments of the year. To me, this was the final piece of the puzzle. Lighting it up at the Valspar Championship is one thing. Doing so at The Players Championship is an entirely other thing.
"I got my playing feels back, and it's just a matter of playing and executing and putting the shots together," said Woods.
I don't know what Tiger is going to do the rest of this year and beyond, but I do know that he's feeling all the shots. The cutting stinger off the tee. The low, hooking driver when he needs it. His short game is delicate, and his speeds on the greens look locked in. Is there room for improvement? He would say so. But this version of Tiger is honestly not one I thought we'd ever see again. He's never going to win as much as he used to or as much as you want him to, but he's apparently going to play great golf at the highest level (and hopefully for a very long time).