February 26, 2018

Woods Finishes 12th at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The comeback is no longer wishful thinking. Tiger Woods is back.

He demonstrated that this week at the Honda Classic by finishing 12th in challenging, windy conditions on the Champion course at PGA National.

Playing back-to-back events on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2015, the 42-year-old Woods led the field in proximity to the hole and finished second in driving distance (319.1). He also tied for 11th in scrambling and was 18th in putting.

This, in only his fourth Tour start in two years after undergoing four back surgeries. Last month, Woods tied for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open, and a week ago he missed the cut at the Genesis Open.

“I made a big leap,” said Woods, after posting rounds of 71-70-69-70 to conclude at even par 280, eight strokes behind winner Justin Thomas, who defeated Luke List in a playoff.

Woods’ ball-striking, distance control and accuracy were much improved from last week at Riviera Country Club. His hit 67 percent of the greens in regulation and more than half of the fairways (35 of 56).

Sunday, in only his 10th competitive round, he climbed into seventh place through 14 holes before surrendering three shots coming in.

“Overall, I’m very pleased,” he said. “I gave myself a chance.”

Teeing off an hour before the leaders with newcomer Sam Burns of LSU, Woods was attired in his traditional Sunday red shirt, black pants and black hat. He got the big gallery going by pouring in a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-4 first hole and added two more before dropping a shot at the par-4 ninth to turn in 2-under 33.

After nice up-and-down par-saves at 10 and 13, Woods canned an 18-foot birdie putt at the par-4 14th to pull within four of the lead. Then he reached the famed Bear Trap – 15-16-17 – which torments every player.

For the second time in the tournament, Woods found water off the tee at the par-3 15th and sustained a double-bogey. He followed with a three-putt bogey at the par-4 16th and was a combined 8-over on those holes for the week.

It should be noted that 17 ranked as the toughest hole on the course and all three finished in the top four.

Woods gave himself good birdie looks at the last two holes and two-putted for pars. Competing under pressure on Sunday in front of thousands of spectators for the first time in three years was no small accomplishment and should help him going forward. Especially since water came into play on 15 holes.

Unlike a week ago, Woods looked comfortable, confident and relished being in contention. All are great signs as he gears up for the Masters in four weeks.

“My body feels good,” Woods said. “I just need to keep it strong.”

Which is why he will likely spend more time at the gym than the course the next few days. No one knows his body better, and Woods is still building tournament endurance.

Another area of focus figures to be par-5 performance, one of his biggest strengths during his prime. Woods managed only one birdie at PGA National.

That said, his length and touch have returned. So has his ability to hit shots no one else can: high, low, left and right. Now it’s a matter of fine-tuning.

“Yea, my expectations have gone up,” said Woods. “I know it’s been a long time, but I remember how to do this.”