When the leader of the Tournament Players Championship holds a seven-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round and that leader is Webb Simpson — not Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson or Rickie Fowler or Jason Day or Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth or even Bubba Watson — on can imagine the folks at NBC TV were concerned.
Who wants to watch that? Who wants to watch a guy with a seven-shot lead, if he doesn’t totally collapse, finish off the rest of the field if he’s not one of the more popular players on the PGA Tour? And even if he’s a popular player, a big-lead finish isn’t usually going to draw a viewing audience.
But there you were, weren’t you? Glued to the TV set on Sunday, watching the end of the TPC, as involved in what was happening as though the matter wasn’t decided.
There’s only one player who has that kind of effect.
We don’t even have to write his last name, and for sure, he’s the reason you were on the couch watching the TPC last weekend and not out doing almost anything else, or watching something else on TV for that matter.
You’ve missed him. Golf has missed him. And for much of the say Sunday, he was back, charging, climbing up the leaderboard. Could he do it? Could he overcome an 11-shot deficit in the final round and add to his legend? Could that tender back hold up? His putting stroke?
As it turned out, no, he couldn’t overcome the vast deficit. No one else would either as Simspon shot 1-over on Sunday and still won the tournament by a comfortable four strokes. But at one time Tiger had gotten within four shots of the lead and you were pulling hard for him to do, just so you could say you saw it happen, just so Tiger would have another win after such a long break, just because it would be so dang cool.
And while he faltered at the end, dropping his tee shot in the drink at the famous par-3 17th hole to end all comeback possibilities, it sure was fun having him in the chase, such that it was for any of the others in the field after Simpson’s amazing first three days of play.
I don’t know if Tiger is back, but he’s around, which can be just as good. Certainly he needs to fine-tune his putting and his driver has to be more accurate. And he has to get back some mojo when he is closing out rounds. But his mechanics look much better, he seems to be building his confidence back, which at one time in his career eliminated half the field in tournaments in which he was a participate.
Golf is just more fun with Tiger involved and competitive, especially with the great lineup of great, young talent throughout the Tour these days. While Simpson was bringing the course to its knees the first two days of play, the fans were gathered around the threesome of Tiger, Phil and Rickie (again, last names not needed) … just because it was Tiger and Phil together, with Rickie, perhaps the most popular player on Tour right now, tagging along.
Tiger was one of the last players to make the cut, getting some help at 1-under after two rounds. Then he drops a 65 on Saturday and moves into the Top 10 on the scoreboard heading into the final round. And he got hot quickly again. And the whispers started, and the place was jumping and at home, you were watching. How could you not?
Then came 17 and the inevitable Simpson win and it was over. But there was leftover excitement. Tiger was back, everyone was saying. Now he just needs to win a tournament again, then another major, and then …
Yep, he’s certainly much better right now than in recent years, but there is work to be done. As well as he played the final two days of the TPC, there are still signs that work must be done. Tiger ranks 193rd on Tour in driving accuracy and although he averages 305.2 yards per tee shot, that ranks a mere 27th on the Tour. He’s just 34th in putting, where he used to dominate, he’s 105th off the tee and 132nd in eagles.
And there’s this: While he was 14 shots back after two rounds and 11 shots back heading into the final round, cutting that deficit to four shots before falling back and finishing in a tie for 11th at 11-under, seven shots behind Simpson, Tiger offered these clues. He had 11 birdies, one eagle and two bogeys for an 11-under score … for four days on the front nine. On the back nine for the week he had seven birdies, five bogeys and the double bogey at 17 on Sunday to shoot even par.
So, getting the putter and driver tuned up, making more hay on the closing holes and gaining more consistency should give Tiger a shot at another Tour tournament title, maybe a major. We don’t know what he’ll shoot his next time out, but there seems one certainty:
We’ll be watching.
Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at