CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In the span of 30 minutes, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods finished their final rounds at the British Open. Both major champions occupied the top of the leaderboard at times Sunday at Carnoustie Golf Links, but they had different reactions upon losing to Francesco Molinari (scores).
Woods outplayed Spieth, shooting even-par 71, but Woods stood 2 under for the day at the turn and atop the leaderboard. The difference from when Woods led in the middle of Saturday’s third round and in Sunday’s final round was that he was on top alone, stirring memories of the 14-time major champion in his heyday. But this isn’t the turn-of-the-century Woods who was practically unbeatable as he racked up 79 PGA Tour victories.
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Tiger Woods fires up the Carnoustie gallery early Sunday before slipping into a tie for 6th in the British Open.
“It's a different version,” Rory McIlroy said of the vintage Woods who ruled the Tour. “But he's right there. He's getting himself in the mix. He's healthy. I wouldn't say we're worried about him, but he's one of those guys that's always in with a shot.”
Asked what it feels like to have to contend again with Woods, who missed most of last season because of back surgery, Spieth said it’s “week in and week out” again.
Woods, 42, knew this was his best chance to end a 10-year drought in the major championships. As he talked about his day – daughter Sam, 11, and son Charlie, 9 were in his gallery – he clearly was upset that he didn’t get it done.
“A little ticked off at myself, for sure,” said Woods, who followed a double bogey at the par-4 11th with a bogey at the par-4 12th. “I had a chance starting that back nine to do something, and I didn't do it.”
Any uncertainty that Woods harbored early in the year after his return from back-fusion surgery – his fourth back surgery – has dissipated. Woods has proved that he can contend at golf’s highest level. The question that he has yet to answer: Will he win again?
Carnoustie, with its firm and fast fairways, seemed to set up well for Woods. He hit irons off of most tees, laying up short of the penal pot bunkers. That strategy won’t work at the PGA Championship in two weeks at Bellerive in St. Louis, where driver will be required.
Woods invoked the recent comeback of tennis’ Serena Williams, who lost eight days earlier in the Wimbledon final, 10 months after giving birth to her first child.
“Serena and I are good friends. I'm sure she'll probably call me and talk to me about it because you've got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “She just had a baby and lost the Wimbledon finals. Just keep it in perspective, and the same thing with me. I know that it's going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I'm at now, blessed.”
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Fans at Carnoustie surround Jordan Spieth, who proved unable to repeat as British Open champion.
Spieth didn’t seem to share any of that disappointment at a missed major opportunity. Spieth, who turns 25 on Friday, already owns three major titles. He shared the 54-hole lead at Carnoustie with fellow Americans Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele but faded with a 5-over 76, dropping into a tie for ninth.
“My game all together is back,” said Spieth, who hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale. “I've had different parts of every single part of my game being at kind of a low point in my career – not all at the same time, but enough to where I haven't really been able to compete. It's all there, and it's moving in the right direction. So, I'm actually very pleased coming out of this week. Obviously, with the disappointment of not getting the job done today, but I'm not going to win every single time.”
Woods and Spieth take different emotions home from Scotland. With his T-6 finish, Woods improved to 50th in the Official World Golf Ranking. That qualifies him for next week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, where he has won eight times. It could be another building block on his comeback.
After the week in Scotland, Woods and Spieth will have something to prove to themselves in Akron.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli