Tiger Woods tees off on the 15th hole during the final round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament on March 11, 2018, at Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Florida.


Liguori: Tiger Woods' 2nd-Place Finish At Valspar Championship Is Talk Of Golf World

Was His Best Performance In More Than 4 Years

Ann Liguori
March 12, 2018 - 3:17 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (WFAN) -- Tiger Mania has resurfaced. And it was more than obvious throughout all four days of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, with record crowds -- galleries following Tiger Woods that were nine rows deep, passionate fans yelling "Go Tiger!" and an energy that electrified the tournament.

It was the first time ever that Woods played the Valspar Championship, which is held on the Copperhead Course known for narrow fairways, tough greens and very challenging finishing holes (Nos. 16, 17 and 18) called the "Snake Pit." And because of it, attendance was up at least 30 percent and the Golf Channel and NBC Sports delivered record television ratings for it over the first three days of coverage. The Round 3 overnight ratings was the PGA Tour's best in nearly 12 years.

Paul Casey ended up winning the Valspar Championship, shooting a final-round 65 for his first PGA Tour title in nine years. Corey Conners, the PGA Tour rookie from Canada who nearly led wire-to-wire, had a one-shot lead heading into the final round, faded, shot a 77 and ended up tied for 16th. Justin Rose, who started the day one shot back, finished with 5 over tied for fifth. Brandt Snedeker, who played with Woods and was also one shot back going into the final round, struggled big time Sunday, shooting a 7 over, tied for 31st. Sergio Garcia, carding a 6-under, climbed up to fourth place.

Woods started the day one shot behind the leader, Conners. Woods made a two-putt birdie on the first hole, bogeyed the par-4 fourth hole and dropped a long bomb on the 17th to close to within one shot of the lead while Casey watched from the clubhouse. 

And on the final hole, Woods had a 40-foot birdie-putt opportunity, which, had he made it, would have forced a playoff. His putt came up short but his overall performance in only his fourth official start since spinal fusion surgery in April was more than impressive. He carded a 1-under 70, and at 9 under overall, he finished tied for second with Patrick Reed. It was his best performance since he finished second at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in December 2013.

And even more impressive, after all of his back surgeries, his clubhead speed from a drive he hit in Saturday’s third round, on the par-5 14th, registered at 129.2 mph, the fastest swing on record on the PGA Tour this season.

“I felt very comfortable, actually,” Woods said after he finished. “I didn't feel that sharp with my iron game. I played very conservatively into the greens because I wasn't as sharp as I was yesterday and just tried to hopefully get a couple good numbers and fire at a few flags. I kept getting the half club. Just one of those days I couldn't quite get the full club.”

Upon his return, he’s improving very quickly, week after week. After missing the cut at the Genesis Open at the Riviera Country Club in mid-February, Woods finished tied for 12th at the Honda Classic, looking sharp but struggling around the Bears Trap (holes 15, 16 and 17). This week he was just one or two putts from winning his first title since the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational.

“I think that I've gotten a little bit better than I was a couple weeks ago at Honda,” Woods said. "Keep getting a little bit better and sharper, and today wasn't quite as sharp as I would like to have had it, but I had a good shot at winning this golf tournament. Couple putts here and there would have been a different story.”

All that adds up to the fact that Woods' 80th win can’t be far away. He’ll be playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this week, a tournament he has won eight times. And then it’s the Masters from April 5-8. The four-time Masters champion has to be ecstatic with his progress so far and the shape his game is in.

And the galleries are showing a renewed appreciation for the new Tiger Woods – a more likable, more relaxed, more humble, more fan-friendly Tiger Woods.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.