Writer: Lucas Garza
Tiger Woods played his third tournament in four weeks, as he competed at the Valspar Championship. This was Tiger’s first time playing this event, as the crowds flocked to the Innisbrook Copperhead Course just outside of Tampa, FL.
The marquee Thursday/Friday grouping of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, and Henrik Stenson, drew massive crowds to the Copperhead course. Tiger started his first round solid, shooting even par on the front nine on a very windy day. As he made the turn, he birdied holes 10 and 11 but picked those shots right back up when he bogeyed 12 and 13. Tiger then made his way into the Snake Pit, the daunting final 3 hole stretch at the Copperhead Course. After pulling his tee shot left into the trees, Tiger hit a miraculous punch shot, dropping his club in the process, and proceeding to get up and down to save par. On the par 3 17th, Tiger hit a cut 5 iron from 200 yards out to just 2 inches, having a tap-in birdie, making the crowd go wild. He would have a 2-putt par at the 18th to post a -1 70, finishing the day in the top 10. Stenson and Spieth seemed to be distracted by the loud gallery Tiger brought in and played themselves out of the tournament on the first day.
Tiger teed off early on Friday and was not shown on T.V., but he was all anybody was talking about as he was going through his round nearly mistake-free. He started on hole 10, and shot a bogey-free -2 on his first nine, and then picked up two more birdies on the front nine. He had a share of the lead for the majority of the morning. Tiger would find his only bogey of the round at the par 4 9th hole and finished posting a -3 68. Canadian Corey Conners would hold the lead at -6 after the first two rounds, but Tiger and other big names including Paul Casey and Brandt Snedeker were right behind him T2 at -4.
Woods and Snedeker played in the penultimate grouping on Saturday and got off to hot starts. Tiger found two birdies early through five holes and then chipped in from just behind the green on the 9th hole to head out at -3 for the day and -7 for the tournament. A birdie at the 10th set the golfing world in a frenzy as Tiger had a share of the lead once again with Corey Conners, who was not reluctant to not back down. Tiger would end up posting his lowest score since his most recent return with a -4 67. At the end of day three, Tiger, Snedeker, and Justin Rose were at -8, just one shot back of TOUR rookie, Conners.
Snedeker and Woods would play in the penultimate pairing once again on Sunday, but after an opening birdie on hole 1 for Sneds, he would collapse and post a 78. Woods also opened with a birdie at the first but would come up empty handed throughout the rest of the front 9. Tiger found himself having a lot of “one of those” short par putts, one of which he missed at the 4th. Tiger would make the turn at even for the day, keeping him near the top of the leaderboard.
Corey Conners and Justin Rose were right behind Tiger in the final pairing, but struggled throughout the day, putting themselves out of true tournament contention by the turn. Paul Casey and Patrick Reed came from behind to take the lead at -9 and were able to extend it to -10 as they played the back 9. Casey was able to make crucial par save throughout the day and only had 21 putts on his way to a -6 65, posting -10 as the clubhouse leader. Patrick Reed headed into the 18th at -10, and crushed his drive, leaving himself just 133 yards in. Reed left his approach shot short of the pin, and fell back on a ridge on the green, and then proceeded to fail to putt his 3rd shot over the ridge. Reed would settle for bogey, and finish one shot behind Casey for the tournament.
Tiger needed to make a couple birdies on the back nine but found himself hitting mediocre iron shots, and couldn’t get any putt to fall. Tiger had a birdie chance at the par 5 14th when he reached the green in two shots, but his 3rd shot left himself 10 ft for birdie, which he could not get to fall. At the par 3 17th, Tiger hit his tee shot about 45 ft over the hole. Knowing he needed to go -2 on the last two holes to force a playoff, he got the long putt to fall and excited everyone in the process. He headed to the 18th tee with a large grin on his face and ripped a 2-iron stinger down the middle of the fairway. His approach to the green was 185 yards, and he hit his 7-iron to the middle of the green. He had a 39 ft birdie putt to tie Casey at -10, but the putt had to slide on top of a steep ridge on its way to the hole. Tiger left the difficult putt just short and right and tapped in to finish the tournament at -9 and T2 with Patrick Reed.
This is just Paul Casey’s second TOUR victory, with his first coming in 2009 at Houston. The Englishmen has been contending for several years now in all types of tournaments, and will also play on the European Tour to try to make the Ryder Cup team for the first time this year. Casey did originally plan to play at the Valspar, but one of his close friends passed away last week. Casey had to alter his schedule to be able to make the funeral and have enough rounds under his belt to be prepared for the Masters.
With Phil Mickelson winning last week, Paul Casey winning this week, and Tiger Woods playing well, the 40+-year-olds have proved that the young guys have not taken over the game quite yet. Woods was outdriving the majority of the field this week and recorded the fastest clubhead speed all season on TOUR (129 mph). The final stop of the Florida swing is next week at Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where Tiger will play and has won an astounding EIGHT times. The top players in the world rankings will then head to Austin Country Club the following week for the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play.