PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The Players Championship was another example of how Tiger Woods rarely beats himself.
Woods was standing on the 17th tee at the TPC Sawgrass on Sunday when he saw Sergio Garcia approaching the par-5 16th green, realizing he was there in two and at worst would make birdie to tie Woods for the lead.
The pin on the island green at No. 17 was in its traditional Sunday location, the back right corner behind the bunker. Finding land is always the priority. From there, it’s a bonus to catch the ridge that feeds the ball down a gentle slope toward the hole.
“The thing is, you can get baited into hitting it over there, and that’s the hard part,” Woods said. “I thought that the prudent play for me was hit it in the center of the green, even left-center, and try and hit kind of a pull-cut. If I hit a pull-cut, it’s going to have a little bit of distance to it, and it might have the shape where it might land up on top and feed down. But when I hit it, a little bit of gust came up and it stalled out.”
The ball stayed on the front of the green, leaving a difficult putt from 45 feet.
Woods hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go in Sunday. This might have been the best putt that he wasn’t expecting to go in. The pace was perfect, 3 feet away, and he made par. Mission accomplished.
Garcia, who two-putted for birdie on the 16th, was standing on the 17th tee watching Woods make his par. Garcia went at the flag and posed over the shot until he saw the splash.
“As the ball was in the air I was thinking, ‘Please be right,’ because it was straight at it,” Garcia said. “It was probably 3 feet left of the hole. When it splashed, you think, ‘Well, hopefully I hit a good shot after this and make 4 and still have a chance on the next.’”
His next shot bounced off the mound framing a bunker and caromed back into the water. He wound up with a quadruple-bogey 7. Adding to his misery, Garcia put his tee shot into the water on the 18th for a double bogey.
To say such mistakes never happen to Woods would be to ignore the final hole at Dubai in 2001, when he went for the green on No. 18 and found water for a double bogey to lose by two shots.
Woods has lost tournaments down the stretch. More often than not, the other guy beats him.
Woods made a mistake Sunday when he hit a pop-hook into the water on the 14th, leading to double bogey that gave hope to about a half-dozen players, at least for a short time. That was because of a bad swing, which is bound to happen over 18 holes of a final round. It’s his head that kept him in the game.
“I stayed really patient,” Woods said. “I kept telling myself, ‘That was your only bad swing you made all day. You can still win this tournament.’”
Woods now is 52-4 when he has at least a share of the lead going into the final round on the PGA Tour. His four wins this year speak to why Woods is such a good closer. He has yet to break 70 in the final round in those four wins. He didn’t need to.
Of the 52 times Woods won with at least a share of the lead after 54 holes, his average score in the final round is 70.5. The 22 times he has won when trailing after 54 holes, his average score in the final round is 66.6.
It’s all about doing whatever it takes to win. And when you don’t, make sure it’s because someone else beats you.