Tiger Woods comes agonisingly close to a comeback victory after a dramatic final round
Tiger Woods missed a long putt on the 18th hole at the Valspar Championship that would have taken him into a play-off with Paul Casey, as he came up just short of his first tournament win since August 2013.
Woods has been building his confidence in his latest comeback bid and this week’s efforts have cemented the belief that he is edging back into the kind of form that allowed him to win 14 majors before a succession of back problems threatened to end his career prematurely.
Woods headed into the final round just two off the lead, but Casey’s sparkling round of 65 set a challenging clubhouse lead that proved to be too much for all to match, with Woods missing a long putt on the 18th that would have sent him into a play-off.
A sensational 44-foot putt on the penultimate hole of his round was evidence that the Tiger of old is rising to the surface once again, as he told Sky Sports that he had relished his first big push to win a tournament on this latest comeback effort.
"It was a very good week. I have got a little better than when I last played a couple of weeks ago. It was a tough week on a demanding course and I felt I held up really well," said Woods.
"It felt very comfortable out there. My game is sharp and unfortunately I didn’t hit the ball close enough to make shots. Little mistakes will get you over the course of a week and it got me in the end."
Asked how he felt being in contention for a first victory in almost five years, Woods added: "It felt very comfortable. Unfortunately I just didn't hit the ball close enough to make a few putts. I missed a short one [for par] at four and should have birdied 14; those little mistakes over the course of a week will get you and it got me this week."
Casey has won 13 times on the European Tour but his sole previous success on the PGA Tour came in the Houston Open in 2009 and he let slip a two-shot lead after 54 holes in the Tour Championship last September.
The 40-year-old began the final round five shots off the lead but carded four birdies and a bogey in a front nine of 33, before rolling in a hat-trick of birdies from the 11th.
Reed joined Casey at the top of the leaderboard with a birdie on the 14th but made a mess of the last, his long-range putt failing to get over the ridge in the green and rolling back to his feet.
"This is so much better than probably a lot of them [wins] put together," Casey told Sky Sports. "Worked so hard for it - it's tough to put it into words.
"There has been a lot [of pressure] and it's got to the point where it's gone the other way, where actually I'm playing very free golf, very relaxed and at peace with whatever happens on the golf course. I can say that because of my life away from the golf course, my wife and kids. To then get both is the icing on the cake."
Casey has finished in the top six in the Masters in each of the last three years and added: "I'm excited, and not only for my game but the fact that Tiger's playing great. It's cool.
"I'm a fan of golf and to pip him is very special. He'll be on top form when we get there [Augusta National] and I'm looking forward to it. I think I've got a good chance."
Masters champion Sergio Garcia finished fourth after also carding a closing 65, with Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Rose a disappointing joint fifth. Rose birdied the opening hole and held the outright lead after Woods dropped a shot on the fourth, but bogeyed the 12th and 13th in a round of 72.
That was fun, TW. 🐅 pic.twitter.com/yL1MxDZfW8— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 11, 2018
Woods has now been installed as the second favourite to win next month’s Masters behind world No.1 Dustin Johnson