Tiger Woods had us believing Sunday at the British Open, and that was worth the eventual disappointment.
The 42-year-old amazed the golfing world in the final round as he played flawless golf in his first 10 holes Sunday at a difficult and windy Carnoustie to move from four back at 5 under into the solo lead at 7 under.
The charge had the golf world on fire, and many dreaming of that 15th major finally arriving 10 years after his 2008 U.S. Open triumph. And doing so a year after his fourth back surgery.
But Woods couldn’t finish it off.
He proceeded to double bogey the 11th and bogey the 12th to quickly fall two behind and knock the wind out of his sails. A birdie at the 14th allowed him to hang around, but ultimately his even-par 71 to get in at 5 under was three shots short, as Francesco Molinari won at 8-under 276.
Woods finished the week in a tie for sixth.
For those, though, who didn’t believe Woods had the ability to win another major, he proved that wrong Sunday.
The three-time Open champion was in total control for the first half of his round Sunday.
He began the day four back after a Saturday 66, but started Sunday with three nifty pars to avoid drifting further back. Woods then drained a 20-footer for birdie at the fourth to get within three. A birdie at the sixth followed when he buried a 7-footer.
When co-leaders Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele both proceeded to bogey the fifth, Woods was suddenly one back.
And then, he grabbed a share of the lead when Schauffele bogeyed the sixth and Spieth doubled.
That certainly sent a buzz up in the air, as Woods (at 7 under) was in the lead Sunday in a major.
After seven smooth holes, Woods began to scramble. He got up and down from bunkers at Nos. 8 and 9 – making putts in the 5-foot range both times – to go out in 2-under 34 and share the lead heading into the back nine Sunday in a major.
He then took the outright lead while playing the 10th after another Schauffele bogey behind. Woods was leading by one at 7 under.
Woods followed by hitting what appeared to be the shot that could lead him to victory. He drove into a fairway bunker at the 10th, but decided to risk matters by playing a pitching wedge from 151 yards at the green.
If he didn’t get it up fast enough, his ball would hit the lip and stay in the bunker. If he hit it fat at all, the ball could finish in a burn short of the green. Woods flushed it, with a full recoil, and saw his ball finish 20 feet below the hole.
He couldn’t make the putt, and then his shaky ball-striking in the middle of the round started to bite him back.
A flailed iron right on the 11th tee led to a wild approach left, a failed flop and a tough double bogey (missing an 8-footer) to drop him from the solo lead to one back. He then bogeyed the 12th to fall two behind at 4 under.
Woods’ run had appeared to stall.
He did birdie the par-5 14th to remain within two and did have a 6-footer for birdie (despite a fan yelling in his back swing off the tee) to tie the clubhouse lead at 6 under, but that was with Molinari facing a 4-footer for birdie to get in at 8 under.
With his chances dead, Woods then pulled his closing birdie effort to finish at 5 under.
A disappointment for sure after where Woods stood with eight holes to play. A year ago, though, Woods wasn’t even playing competitive golf.
He had his fourth back surgery last April and a DUI arrest the following month. He was out of competition for nearly a year before returning in December at the Hero World Challenge.
His latest comeback has been a rousing success, as he’s threatened to win a few times and has now put himself in the thick of major contention once again (this is Woods’ highest major finish since a T-6 at the 2013 British Open).
Woods now has six top-12 finishes in 10 official PGA Tour starts this season. When will that 15th major title (and 80th PGA Tour win) come?
We don’t know. But he showed Sunday that it could very well arrive soon.