If there was any doubt about whether Tiger Woods has again become the world’s best player, and by a long ways, he slammed the door on the issue by winning his second Players Championship Sunday. Woods shot a final-round 70 to win by two shots over David Lingmerth, Jeff Maggert, and Kevin Streelman. He finished with a 13-under-par total of 275, but it was the way he did what he needed to do down the stretch that was so impressive.
Woods had been putting on a clinic through 13 holes. He was playing in the second-to-last twosome and held a two-shot lead over Maggert and three over Sergio Garcia at the time. Garcia had played the third round with Woods and said before the final round that he was glad they weren’t together again. They aren’t exactly best buddies.
It appeared Woods would walk in easily and win the Players again. He had last won the PGA Tour’s flagship tournament in 2001. Woods had said frequently that the TPC Sawgrass, the host course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was a tricky layout. He had solved its mysteries only that once.
But Woods then hit a horrible tee shot on the 14th hole, and it was completely unexpected because of the precision he’d been demonstrating. His tee shot found the lake left of the fairway, and led to a double-bogey. Woods was suddenly tied for the lead with Lingmerth, Maggert, and Garcia.
Still, he was the golfer who has won 14 majors in his total of 77 PGA Tour victories. Woods lives for chasing victories and for gnawing out of himself what it takes to win even after he has faltered. He had won three PGA Tour events this year, and six of his last 20 PGA Tour events. In the process, he had resumed his No. 1 world ranking.
On the par-four 15th, Woods drilled his tee shot. It was as if the wild shot he’d hit off the previous tee had never happened, or it if had, not to him. Still, he short-sided himself with his approach to the 15th green. He got up and down for par, and, presently, he resumed the clinic he had been putting on for those first 13 holes.
Woods hit a beauty of a splashing sand shot from the bunker at the front right of the green on the par-five 16th hole. Birdie. His wedge off the tee on the treacherous, island green, par-three 17th hole finished well left of the hole. He hit an ideal lag putt, and made his par.
Ahead of him, Maggert had found the water on the 17th. The 49-year-old veteran’s chase for the title was over. Right behind him, Garcia, having birdied the 16th, was tied for the lead with Woods. Lingmerth, a PGA Tour rookie with game and grit, had also birdied the hole and was also tied.
Garcia then came apart. He came up short and in the water twice on the 17th hole, and made a quadruple-bogey. Goodbye. Lingmerth’s tee shot finished six feet right of the hole but he missed the birdie putt.
Woods hit a perfect, right-to-left tee shot on the difficult par-four 18th with its lake all the way up the left side. He hit a perfect 9-iron from 153 yards right over the flag, and two-putted. Lingmerth drove into the right rough on the last hole and then left himself a birdie putt of some 60 feet to tie Woods. He gave the putt a run but missed it.
Woods had won for the seventh time in his last 21 tournaments. That’s an absurdly high win percentage for a golfer. He hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, though. The U.S. Open will be played at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia next month.
“A lot of people in this room thought I was done,” Woods said in his post-victory conference. “But I’m not.”
If he keeps playing the way he is, if he keeps getting better, as he is, everybody else might be done. Done winning much, that is, because Woods is winning so regularly again.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein