POTOMAC, Md. – In the end, it didn’t matter. Tiger Woods would have needed to shoot the lowest round in PGA Tour history to catch Francesco Molinari, who ran away with the Quicken Loans National Sunday and won at 21 under.
At the turn there was still plenty of hope, with Woods four shots off the lead. Another frenzied gallery of his own creation was ready to sprint toward the fairway after he teed off on 10, as soon as the nearby marshal opened the ropes. The fans would be going down a steep hill to get there, and a marshal asked everyone to please keep their safety in mind.
“Let’s act like human beings,” he said.
“But that’s Tiger Woods up there,” one fan replied.
The enthusiasm died down a bit after a par at 10 and bogey at 11. Woods would go on to shoot 4-under 66 on the day and finish T-4 at 11 under for his third top-5 finish this season.
Switching to a new TaylorMade Ardmore 3 mallet-style putter paid dividends at TPC Potomac, where Woods finally got the ball rolling correctly again and not coincidentally snagged his best finish since a T-5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
“Finally I’m starting to hit some putts,” Woods said. “I’m starting to make those putts you’re supposed to make from 10, 15 feet, but I’m also making some from outside 20. I haven’t done that for the better part of two months.”
The short ones are still giving Woods problems – he missed 13 putts from inside 10 feet on the week. It seemed as if the flat stick was holding him back at times, but the numbers show Woods’ optimism is warranted. He finished seventh in the field in strokes gained putting and finally got some confidence back ahead of the British Open on July 19-22 at Carnoustie.
While Woods was talking with reporters about his chances at Carnoustie near the scoring area, caddie Joe LaCava was in good spirits in the players parking lot. A long day in the sun was over and he was handling Woods’ clubs, one by one, moving them to his original bag from the camouflage-patterned bag Woods used over the weekend that soon will be auctioned off for an absurd amount of money.
“Two tournaments come to mind I think he had a legit shot at winning,” LaCava said. “Memorial, as good as he played, even though he didn’t finish up there and (Valspar Championship). … This week he probably finished about what he deserved. You’re never satisfied. But at the same time, 11 tournaments, to have this kind of year so far, not all bad.”
Woods made plenty of noise again this week with his fifth finish inside the top 12. He just hasn’t been able to do it in a major. He finished T-37 at the Masters and never really contended. He began the U.S. Open with a triple bogey and missed the cut.
Later this month he’ll head overseas to the toughest course in the British Open rotation, and he’ll need his best four-round stretch of the year to have a chance. That’s what he’ll focus on over the next two weeks, out of the limelight and deeply entrenched in the process.
“Just trying to get efficient hitting the golf ball both ways and then getting comfortable hitting the ball down,” Woods said. “It’s a lot of different angles, so a lot of different crosswinds. I have to be able to maneuver the golf ball both ways there efficiently. You just have to hit the golf ball well there.”
Woods is chasing career major No. 15 at Carnoustie, and there’s a little extra incentive. Woods absolutely loves Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, where he’s won eight times. He would love to tee it up there one last time two weeks after the British Open, with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational leaving Firestone after this year. He’s just not eligible yet.
Woods was projected to move inside the top 70 of the Official World Golf Ranking after the National – for a bit of perspective, he was No. 656 when he started this comeback in January.
That means Woods needs to either win the British Open or finish high enough to get into the top 50, which would require his best performance at a major since a T-6 finish at the 2013 British at Muirfield.
“I would like to get in there one more time,” Woods said. “I know the Champions Tour is going there, so eight more years from now I’ll be able to get a start, (but) I don’t want to wait that long. Just another month or so.”
Woods, 42, has done a lot of waiting lately. It’s been 10 years since his last major win and five years since he’s won anywhere. After another promising week that wasn’t quite good enough to finish atop a leaderboard, he won’t have to wait long for another crack at it in Scotland.
“He’s always played well at the British Open,” LaCava said. “As solid as he’s playing right now, and seems like he’s got his iron game pretty dialed in, I’m excited to go over there.”