PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods left a lot of money, world-ranking points, FedEx points and his Bridgestone golf ball at the bottom of the water in front of the 17th green Sunday.
You would hardly know it based on his positive reaction after he tied for 11th at the Players Championship, shooting a final-round 69 after earlier being in a tie for second place behind eventual winner Webb Simpson.
“I really played really good today. I hit it so good,” Woods said after shooting rounds of 72-71-65-69. “I had control of it from tee to green. I made some putts. I felt good on basically every facet of the game, and it’s weird — not to really mishit a shot today and only shoot 3 under par is just weird … because I played much better than that.”
Woods began the day tied for eighth, 11 strokes behind Simpson. By the time Woods teed off, he had dropped to a tie for 17th.
He steadily climbed the leaderboard with birdies at the second, third, fourth and ninth holes. He added birdies at the 11th and 12th and was 6 under par for his round. At that point, he had closed to within four strokes of Simpson and was tied for second at 14 under par.
But like Saturday, when he was 8 under through 12 holes, the round stalled at the par-4 14th and this time was compounded by a tee shot into the water at the par-3 17th.
In both cases, Woods hit a sand wedge approach, but he said he did not misplay either shot.
“No. 14, it’s blowing downwind, and it’s off the left, and [the pin] is on top of that crown, and I thought it [the ball] was going to skip,” Woods said of the shot from 110 yards. “I thought I was going to have a hard time keeping it up top, and I spun it off the ridge. Left it short and hit a good putt. Just didn’t go in.”
The hole has been something of a nemesis for Woods. It is where he hit his tee shot in the water — leading to a controversial drop — on his way to victory in 2013. He bogeyed the hole Saturday. This time, he pounded a driver 355 yards into the fairway and had the short distance to the flag.
After it came up short and rolled off the front of the green, Woods elected to putt and left it 8 feet short then missed the par putt.
After failing to birdie the par-5 16th for the second straight day, he arrived at the par-3 17th and watched Jordan Spieth stick his shot to a few feet from a precarious pin that is typically on the right side on Sundays.
“I think I messed him up,” Spieth said. “He went and looked in my bag, and I had a 52-degree [sand wedge], which is a pretty aggressive play. I had to draw it from the water. And then he hit one, and the wind is just going like this the whole day, and if he caught this, he’s a tap-in birdie. It was unlucky there.”
Woods said Spieth’s shot did not impact him and that it was simply the wind.
“It was blowing downwind, and then, unfortunately, it switched in my face,” Woods said.
The resulting double-bogey bounced Woods out of the top 10, which meant a significant difference in prize money, FedEx points and the world ranking.
Woods finished at 277, 11 under par and seven shots back of Simpson and three back of second-place finishers Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker and Xander Schauffele.
After beginning the week ranked 92nd in the world, Woods will move up to 80th. He would have been pushing the top 50 with a second-place finish. The drop also cost him approximately $600,000 in prize money, as the three players who tied for second each received $821,333, while Woods got $225,500. He will move from 53rd to 48th in the FedEx Cup standings.
Having won 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour events in his career, Woods is not much concerned with where he is in the various rankings. But he noted Sunday that he would like to qualify for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.
“One of my goals is to get into Akron, one last time, before we leave there,” Woods said of the tournament he has won eight times at Firestone Country Club. It is moving to Memphis, Tennessee, after this year. “I’ve won there eight times, and I would like to get there with one more chance. But I’ve [got] to do some work between now and then.”
Short of a victory, Woods needs to be ranked among the top 50 in the world as of July 23 or July 30 to qualify.
“He’ll win sometime soon enough,” said Spieth, who tied for 41st after a final-round 74 that included an 8 at the last hole. “He’s certainly playing well enough to do so. All in all, I think he played like a 5- or 6-under round, almost shot 7 or 8 and ended up with 3.
“So 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.”
Woods will take the next two weeks off and is expected to return at The Memorial Tournament, held May 31-June 3, that he has won five times but hasn’t played since 2015. That year, he shot his highest score as a pro, a third-round 85.
He has come a long way from those days. Some 13 months after spinal fusion surgery, he has played nine worldwide events — eight on the PGA Tour — and posted five top-12 finishes. He has jumped from 1,199th in the world to 80th. And he has some confidence.
“I felt comfortable with every facet of my game today,” Woods said. “Everything felt good. I had control, I was hitting it high, low, right, left, didn’t matter what it was. I felt like I had control of it today.”