Woods looks closer than ever to winning again

Doug Ferguson, AP Golf Writer | 3/12/2018, 6:56 a.m.
The red shirt didn't have a collar. His head doesn't have quite as much hair. His lower spine has been ...
Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the 13th hole during the final round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — The red shirt didn't have a collar. His head doesn't have quite as much hair. His lower spine has been fused.

Everything else about Tiger Woods is starting to look familiar.

For the first time since the late summer of 2013, Woods worked the fans into a frenzy on the weekend and keep them on their toes right to the very end. He wound up one shot — one putt — short to Paul Casey in the Valspar Championship. He broke par all four rounds and tied for second, the first time he had done either of those since the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs in August 2013.

All that did was turn attention to this week at Bay Hill, where Woods has won eight times and twice ended long victory droughts.

He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2009 for his first victory after reconstructive knee surgery. He won there again in 2012 for his first victory since the scandal in his personal life, followed by various leg injuries.

"It's going to be good for me to get back," Woods said. "I've had some great memories there."

Casey ended a nine-year drought on the PGA Tour when he took the lead with three straight birdies on the back nine at Innisbrook, saved par over the last four holes for a 6-under 65 and then settled into a leather sofa in the locker room to see if anyone could catch him.

A playoff looked imminent when Patrick Reed tied for the lead with a birdie on the 14th hole and was in the middle of the 18th fairway, 133 yards away, for a chance at birdie for the win or a par to force a playoff.

And then someone else entered the picture.

Woods, who opened with a two-putt birdie to briefly share the lead, had gone 15 consecutive holes without a birdie and needed to finish birdie-birdie to catch Casey. His tee shot on the par-3 17th was long, rolling out some 45 feet away.

From the time the ball left his club, there was something inevitable about the putt . Woods posed, waiting for the grain in the green to take over, and it did at just the right time. The ball moved left and dropped into the cup, setting off more pandemonium.

Brandt Snedeker, playing with Woods, just smiled. Casey even got caught up in the emotion that swept over Innisbrook for four days.

"I loved his putt on 17. That was amazing," Casey said. "I thought he was going to hole the one on 18."

Maybe next time.

But after a week like this, next time doesn't seem all that far away — not with Bay Hill four days away, and the Masters a few weeks behind it.

Casey won on the PGA Tour for the first time since the Houston Open in 2009, a span of 132 starts, though he had won five around the world since. It was the second time he won a tournament with Woods in the field. The other occasion was in 2006 at the HSBC World Match Play at Wentworth, when Casey wore a red shirt Sunday. Woods had been eliminated at the start of the week.