ST. LOUIS – Sport has a way at times of shocking the senses.
On Sunday at the PGA Championship, many observers were jolted as memories of Tiger Woods roaming the fairways, in contention and in his familiar red shirt in the final round of a major tournament, came rushing back.
It was no dream. Woods became the show down the stretch at Bellerive Country Club as the 100th PGA went out with a bang.
© GOLFFILE/BRIAN SPURLOCK
Tiger Woods draws a crowd Sunday during the final round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.
Yes, it was a week of low scoring due to wet conditions, which contributed to a leaderboard full of major firepower.
Going into Sunday, the 38th game caught special attention: Gary Woodland and Tiger Woods at 1:35 p.m. CDT.
Woods started the week with a bogey and double bogey but found a way to shoot even-par 70. That was just a prelude to Woods’ showing that he is no mere afterthought, but at 42 and fully recovered from a fourth back surgery, a competitor again in big events.
Of course, with 14 major championships, Woods has shown golf fans enough moxie over the years. With his last major title having come 10 years ago, in that stirring U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, time might have clouded some memories as to Woods’ capabilities.
On Sunday, Woods reminded everyone – whether they saw him in his turn-of-the-century prime or not – just how good he can be with a club and a white dimpled ball.
With eight birdies, Woods shot a final-round 6-under 64, his lowest score in a major championship, as he finished two strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka (scores).
Woods birdied two of his first three holes and then surged near the top of the leaderboard with birdies on four of six holes midround. A bogey at the par-4 14th interrupted his momentum before two birdies on the final four holes left him just short of major No. 15.
Woods hit six iron shots to within 20 feet in the round and poured in 81 feet, 10 inches in putts.
Woods was gunning for Koepka, who was playing two groups behind, with Adam Scott in the final pairing. It was similar to last month’s British Open, when Woods gave chase, briefly taking the lead on the back nine at Carnoustie, before ultimately fading to a tie for sixth.
This time, Woods couldn’t quite climb to the top of the leaderboard. When he needed to make a final run, Woods came up dry, pushing his drive into a hazard lining the right side of the 17th hole, pitching out and eventually settling for par, ending his hopes at victory.
The birdie putt on the 18th hole proved to be anticlimactic, because Woods essentially no longer could catch the leader. For Woods, the finish was somewhat of a validation of what he has accomplished since returning to tournament golf at the Farmers Insurance Open in January.
As Woods acknowledged the crowd as he stepped off the green, he made his way up the walkway bridge toward the scoring area. Then, he did something that for him truly was remarkable: he turned toward the massive gathering, waved and gave a thumbs-up salute. It resembled Winston Churchill’s uplifting “V” for victory sign to the residents of London.
The gesture was one of the few times in his career that Woods made such an acknowledgement.
Then Woods did another remarkable act. He waited for Koepka to come to the scoring area and embraced the three-time major champion for his victory.
It was the sort of human moment that Woods rarely had shown in public in the past.
Woods, who improves to 26th in the Official World Golf Ranking, also moves up to 20th in the FedEx Cup standings. Although he is no shoo-in for the season-ending Tour Championship, if he continues to play the way that he did in St. Louis, he will be one of the 30 in Atlanta.
But the real test will come in April at Augusta National, where Woods will resume his quest for a 15th major championship and take one more step toward golf immortality and Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli