March 04, 2012

Tiger closes out Honda with 62 in Sunday surge

Sparked by two eagles, Tiger Woods closed with a bogey-free, 8-under-par 62 Sunday to tie for second in The Honda Classic at PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. It marked his best score on the PGA Tour since a third-round 62 at the BMW Championship in 2009.

“I’ve been hitting it like this for a while,” said Woods. “It all came together.”

Making his first professional start in the event, Woods completed the tournament at 10-under 270, two strokes behind winner Rory Mcllroy. The 62 equaled his best final-round score on the PGA Tour. The only other times he has shot lower were when he posted 61 at the 1999 Byron Nelson Championship, the 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational and the 2005 Buick Open.

Woods punctuated the spectacular day by holing a 24-foot birdie putt at the dangerous par-3 17th, then reached the green in two at the 556-yard, par-5 18th hole, where the pin was tucked back-right near the water.

Tiger hit a magnificent long-iron second shot off a sidehill lie that finished eight feet above the cup, and buried the eagle putt.

“It was a tough little read,” he said of the double-breaker. “I was wiggling back and forth. I finally hit it left-center.”

The ball rolled dead-center into the middle of the cup, Woods pumping his right fist and the huge crowd erupting with cheers. Woods received a nice pat on the back from playing partner Ernie Els and tipped his cap to the fans when they yelled, “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!”

Starting the final round nine strokes off the lead, Woods was paired with Els and Brandt Jobe. Play was suspended for nearly two hours due to rain and blustery conditions.

Neither bothered Woods, who jump-started his round by holing a 27-foot eagle putt at the 538-yard, par-5 third hole. He followed with a nice 6-iron to the 192-yard, par-3 fifth hole — the ball stopped nine feet from the cup — and converted the putt, then added another birdie with a 10-foot putt at the 192-yard, par-3 seventh hole, where he flushed a 5-iron against the wind.

Woods two-putted No. 8 for par from 27 feet and made a nice up-and-down save for par at the par-4 ninth to make the turn in 4-under 31.

After just missing a long birdie putt at the par-4 10th, Woods poured in a 14-foot birdie putt at the 415-yard, par-4 11th hole to pull within four strokes of the lead. He followed with pars at 12 and 13, just missing a 10-foot birdie putt at the latter.

Tiger missed a 17-foot birdie try at the par-4 14th, then made a good par save at the tough, 179-yard, par-3 15th, the beginning of a three-hole stretch called the Bear Trap. Woods chipped six feet short and made the par putt.

Woods almost holed a 17-foot birdie putt at the par-4 16th, then saved his best for last. With the birdie at 17, he wound up playing the Bear Trap 1-under par for the week — no easy accomplishment.

“I figured I needed to go birdie-birdie to at least have a chance,” he said.

For the day, Woods hit 79 percent of the fairways and 78 percent of the greens in regulation and used 26 putts. He also led the field in total driving.

The two eagles marked the 18th time in his career he has achieved the feat, the last time coming in the final round of the 2010 Masters.

Woods returns to competition next week in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at the TPC Blue Monster at Doral in Miami.