Tiger Woods continues to show he’s close to championship form

May 13, 2018; Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, USA; Tiger Woods signs autographs for kids after the final round of The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports Adam Hagy/USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods continues to show he’s close to championship form

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Tiger Woods continues to show he’s close to championship form

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Tiger Woods left TPC Sawgrass on Sunday night coming off his lowest-scoring weekend in six years, and he knew one thing.

“I’m not that far off from winning golf tournaments,” Woods said.

Considering Woods was at one point T-2 on the back nine in the final round of a tournament boasting the strongest field of the year, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Woods made the cut on the number and was 1 under going into Round 3 of The Players Championship. He finished T-11 after shooting 11-under 277 for the week – seven shots behind runaway winner Webb Simpson – and closed with rounds of 65 and 69.

The 134 weekend total was Woods’ lowest since the 2012 Deutsche Bank Championship and led to his fifth top-25 finish in eight starts this season.

This was perhaps his most promising week yet. He finished runner-up at the Valspar Championship on the difficult Copperhead Course, but that was against a weaker field, and Woods said all week the tough course conditions played to his strengths. He likes it when par is a good score.

Rally after rough start at TPC Sawgrass

Even par was good for a one-way ticket home Friday night at TPC Sawgrass, and Woods fought hard to stick around at 1 under. Then he made birdies in droves and proved he can compete in a shootout, too. He started the weekend 14 shots behind 36-hole leader Simpson and got to within four of him after a birdie at No. 12 Sunday.

Woods moved up to eighth overall this season in strokes gained: total, a good indicator of a player’s overall game and consistency relative to the rest of the Tour.

“There’s no way I would have predicted I would be at this point at the beginning of the year,” Woods said.

No one did, really, because 42-year-old athletes don’t improve with age and he fell so hard and fast after the 2013 Player of the Year campaign.

The torch was passed, in many ways, to Jordan Spieth, who at the 2017 British Open became just the second player in history alongside Jack Nicklaus to win three of the four major championships before age 24.

Then Woods had a back fusion, started this comeback and found himself playing with Spieth in the fifth-to-last pairing Sunday.

Woods makes Spieth an understudy

Put bluntly, he emasculated Spieth at times throughout the round. Woods was five shots better on the day, he drove it 54 yards past him on the par-4 14th hole and placed Spieth in the unfamiliar second-fiddle role.

After Woods made birdie at the par-3 third hole, fans were sprinting to the fourth tee box. Spieth and Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy are huge draws, but there is only one man in golf who can create track meets outside the ropes.

“His game, if I compare it to other guys that are winning golf tournaments that I’m playing with day-to-day, it’s right up there,” Spieth said.

The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village likely will be Woods’ next stop after two weeks off. He’s won there five times, including three in a row from 1999-2001 and most recently in 2012.

Then it’s on to Shinnecock, where Woods finished T-17 in 2004 in his only prior U.S. Open appearance there as a professional.

His chances at the second major of the year look increasingly strong after his sudden weekend charge just four months into a comeback few took seriously at the onset.

“I think if you would have asked me on Friday, I would have said, ‘Uhhh, so-so,’ ” Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava said. “But after these last two days, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but those are good signs. … If he can continue like this he’ll certainly be a factor at Shinnecock.” Gwk

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