PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The galleries following the 2:05 p.m. starting time of Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods dwarfed any other group during Sunday's final round at the Players Championship. For much of the round, Woods looked every bit a worthy commander of their adoration. He chipped away at the 11-shot deficit he'd faced entering the day, raining birdies and causing roars easily audible to leader Webb Simpson's group three holes behind.
But the lead would prove insurmountable, particularly as Woods faded late in the round, his final hopes disappearing in the water in front of the 17th green. A double bogey there led to Woods's three-under 69 and 11-under tournament total. On Sunday he played the first 12 in six under, but the final six in three over.
"I felt good in 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 said after his round.
After splitting the fairway with his opening tee shot, Woods spun his wedge off the front of the green and negotiated a two-putt par from the fringe. A wayward tee shot at the par-5 2nd forced him to punch out and he had to scramble from over the green for a disappointing par.
A 15-footer for birdie at the par-3 3rd jumpstarted his round — and the massive crowds — which only grew more frenzied when he stuck a wedge to four feet at No. 4 and then slammed a 17-footer in at No. 5 to make it three in a row. At the 6th, Woods narrowly missed a 14-footer for birdie in what would be his only two-putt of the front nine.
He required more cunning around the green on his next two holes. After shorting another wedge into the bunker at the 7th, Woods poured in a seven-footer for par. He pulled his tee shot at the par-3 8th into the left bunker; from there he played his sand shot past the pin all the way onto the back fringe before it took the slope back to within five feet of the hole.
Woods got up and down from a thick lie right of the 9th green to go out in four-under 32, taking him to 12 under par. He just missed a birdie putt at 10 and then missed an eagle putt at 11, settling for a tap-in birdie. He took out 3-wood to go for the green at the par-4 12th, but blocked it well right of the fairway, although a merciful kick off a tree sent it back to the fairway. From there he hit a delicate low pitch that ran across the fringe and trickled down to inside four feet for another birdie, taking him to 14 under and a share of second place. Moments later, leader Webb Simpson missed a par putt at No. 10 to drop to 18 under; the four shot deficit was as close as Woods would get.
As was the case after Woods's hot start Saturday, the last third of his Sunday round was a letdown. He spun a wedge off the front of the green from just 94 yards at 14 and failed to get up and down with his putter. He missed right off the 16th tee and was forced to lay up. The final death blow came at No. 17, where Woods appeared to have misjudged the wind and his wedge off the tee splashed well short of the island green. He made double bogey.
A double bogey for Tiger Woods.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 13, 2018
He leaves the 17th hole 8 shots back. pic.twitter.com/hT4wcg0cLE
A par at No. 18 tallied up to a three-under 69, leaving him 11 under for the tournament and a share of 11th place as he came off the course.
Woods took the week as a big positive. "I didn't play particularly well in the first couple days, but I turned it around this weekend and I got it rolling," he said. "I hit the ball well, I controlled it and I made some putts."
Woods is likely to make his next start at the Memorial after taking the next two weeks off, and he said he believes he can win golf tournaments going forward. "I got my feels and I know what I'm going to do in a tournament," he said. "This weekend was more like it."