ST. LOUIS – Tiger Woods did not win that elusive 15th major tournament, but there is no doubt that the golf icon is playing the best he has in years.
Although Woods failed to win the PGA Championship on Sunday, he was no failure. Woods fired a 64 in the final round at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis to finish in second place, two strokes behind the victorious Brooks Koepka.
It was an impressive final 18 holes for Woods, who birdied the 18th hole to finish with 64 — tying for the best round of the day along with Rafa Cabrera Bello and Tyrrell Hatton. It marked the best round for Woods in the final round of any major tournament in his career.
“I played hard,” Woods told CBS Sports as Koepka was playing the 18th hole. “Bit of a struggle with my game today. I was hanging in there, just grinding it out and trying to make as many birdies as possible. This golf course was giving it up, and I made a little bit of a run.”
For the tournament, Woods shot a 14 under for a four-day score of 266. It was nothing to be ashamed of, to say the least. It took Koepka delivering a PGA Championship 72-hole scoring record of 264 to defeat Woods.
It took elite golf to prevent Woods, 42, from the Wanamaker Trophy, as the champion and runner-up were the only players with scores of 66 or better in each of the last three rounds.
Koepka still may not have earned his fourth PGA Tour victory if not for Woods’ struggles on the front nine Sunday, where the four-time PGA Championship winner missed all seven fairways on the first nine holes, which helped limit him to just one birdie on his first five par-4 holes on the round.
“I had a hard time just with my warmup,” Woods said afterward. “I was hitting it left, I was hitting it right, and I just had to pick a side. Did I want to miss it way right or did I want to miss it way left?
“It was a struggle until I found a little bit of something on the back nine. I was just hanging in there with my mind, basically. It kinda got me through.”
What seemed to give him, and the raucous gallery, a spark was Woods’ round-turning rescue shot on the ninth hole. After hooking his initial iron shot off the tee, Woods took a drop from a cart path but still found a way to smack a beautiful shot to the middle of the green. When he knocked down the putt for a thrilling birdie to move to 11 under, the crowd exploded.
The fans in attendance were riveted — and loud in support of Woods for the remainder of the day.
“These fans were so positive all week,” Woods said after his round. “I can’t thank them enough for what they were saying out there, what it meant to me as a player. Just coming back and trying to win a major championship again. I was in contention the last two major championships, and I would have never foreseen that a year ago. I’m just so thankful to be here.”
The birdie on the ninth gave him a 32 on the front nine, which include four birdies and one bogey (on the par-3 sixth hole). Woods carried the momentum and matched his front-nine performance on the back, adding four more birdies and another bogey (on the par-4 14th). His excellent play kept him in contention, and he played the entire back nine within one shot of the lead.
Only a shoved tee shot right on the par-5 17th hole into a hazard, though Woods ended up parring the hole, essentially removed his last shot at catching Koepka.
Still, the round was vintage Tiger Woods, who returned to the PGA Tour in 2018 after recovering from his fourth back surgery. It was the second straight major that he finished in the top 10. He tied for sixth at The Open Championship last month.
Which begs the question: Will the recharged Woods be chosen for the Ryder Cup team that competes next month?
“I do want to be on the team — as a player,” Woods said. “I’m going to be there either way. Our captain has some decisions to make after the first couple playoff events. We’ll all sit down and give him our input of what we think and who should be on the team and who can contribute to the team.
“And, you know, hopefully my name will be part of that process.”
Woods is not yet in the top eight automatic qualifiers who secured Ryder Cup spots on Sunday, but he can be selected by U.S. captain Jim Furyk and his assistants.
–Field Level Media