Can Tiger be back… please!

Tiger Woods didn’t win the Valspar Championship, but he proved once again that this comeback is unlike the rest

By MICHAEL BAMBERGER

Sunday, March 11, 2018

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — This was different. Tiger Woods at 42, with a fused back and exposed private life, would have to be. If you think this version is better, go right ahead. Back in the day, when Earl was in his prime and his youngest child was not yet in his, the father would tell the son, “Let the legend grow.” You have the highlight reel in your head of the many times he did.

Sunday at the Valspar Championship, normally just an ordinary Tour event, was nothing like ordinary, as Woods began the day with a chance to win and never did anything to take himself out of it. The Englishman Paul Casey, playing 70 minutes ahead of Woods, got in the house at 10 under with a sterling 65. Woods, playing in the second-to-last group and looking for his 80th PGA Tour win and his first since 2013, knew what he had to do. His play was … fine. No, it was far better than that. His play was often spectacular. It just never amounted to anything. He began the day at eight under. He turned at eight under. He dropped a 43-foot birdie bomb on 17 to go to nine under, and on his long walk to the hole broke out in the biggest smile you’ve seen from him in years.

Eighteen was his chance to let the legend grow. The 72nd hole is why Tiger Woods was in the fitness room at this middle-class resort on Friday morning hours before his early tee time, hours before day break, lifting weights, strengthening his obliques with a medicine ball. But it didn’t happen. Fine tee shot, indifferent iron, 39-footer that died a about a foot short of the hole, a slap to the face of his putter because any other slap would be socially unacceptable. He didn’t win. Casey did, and Woods was one shot back. One shot! He didn’t do what he used to do, take the reins of the tournament, put the other players on his puppet strings, hoist the trophy like it was preordained to belong to him. Nope, he didn’t do any of that. But he showed that he can win again. Maybe he’ll win this week at Bay Hill. Maybe he’ll win next month at the Masters. Maybe he’ll never win again. But he’s going to have some chances.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t play before Arnold’s passing,” Woods said. “It’s going to be good for me to get back. I’ve had some great memories there. I have won there a few times.” By which he means eight. Such an understated guy! The opposite of his father, that way.

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