March 3, 2014 in Breakfast Ball
A strong weekend of golf all around, wouldn’t you say?
What we expected to be a runaway at Honda turned into a grindfest down the stretch and a four-person playoff. But before the leaders even stepped foot into the infamous Bear Trap, the storyline of the day was already written with another top player walking off of PGA National.
Because this is golf, we start with Tiger. After putting together arguably his best 18-hole round of the year on Saturday, in which the world No. 1 shot a 5-under par 65 and navigated the PGA National Champion course greens in just 23 putts, including 11 one-putt greens, things turned sour quickly for Woods.
On a day that hindsight snarkily points out a 67 from Tiger was all that he needed to join the playoff, Woods was 5-over through six holes and an afterthought for the television coverage until his back flared up again.
Woods was noticeably tight and bothered by his back from the first tee. Leaning sideways from the hip to stretch out his back and looking uncomfortable for the better part of the day, Tiger walked off the course on the 13th hole. Playing partner Luke Guthrie was predictably asked to talk about his playing partner, to the tune of his entire eight-question postround flash interview.
Q. Can you tell us what happened on 13, what Tiger said to you?
LUKE GUTHRIE: Obviously he kind of noticed that he wasn’t feeling the greatest there. I noticed he was starting to kind of gingerly tee up the ball and pick up the ball out of the hole and stuff. He just came over and said that, I can’t go anymore, it was a pleasure playing with you and I just said, take it easy, feel better. Pretty unofficial, uneventful.
Q. During the entire round, did it seem like he was laboring?
LUKE GUTHRIE: He made a couple uncharacteristic shots; the drive on 3 kind of was the first one. I didn’t know if he wasn’t feeling the greatest and kind of seemed like he might have been protecting, came up and out of it. I don’t know, I didn’t think much of it until, I forget maybe the first hole,11, I noticed he was bending down gingerly.
It would later come to light that the episode was similar to what happened to him at The Barclays last season. In other words, back spasms. Woods released a short statement on his way to the parking lot, saying:
“It’s my lower back with spasms. It started this morning warming up. (Regarding Doral), it’s too early to tell. I need treatment every day until Thursday to try to calm it down. We’ll see how it is. It’s the same feeling I had as Barclays.”
Woods is the defending champion at the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral, this weekend’s tournament. We’ll surely be kept up-to-date on the Twitter machine with what will transpire.
Back to the tournament-proper, though, where a snoozer turned into a white-knuckle playoff. Holding a two-shot lead for the majority of the day even as he faltered, Rory McIlroy looked like he couldn’t do anything but win until he snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory on the 16th hole.
Still 10-under par at the time and in control of a two-stroke lead as he approached the fairway bunker of the 434-yard par-4, McIlroy chunked his approach shot out to the right and couldn’t cover the five yards he needed to stay dry. A missed bogey putt from 22-feet put McIlroy in a tie for the lead at 8-under. Another bogey on the par-3 17th and McIlroy needed a birdie on the gettable par-5 18th to sneak into a playoff.
His playing partner, Russell Henley, scrapped alongside McIlroy all day long, doing enough to just stick around. Tied for the lead at the par-3 15th, Henley dunked his tee ball and walked off the green with a double bogey, two behind McIlroy and all but dead. However, McIlroy played the next two holes 3-over and Henley kept scrapping out pars, eventually finding himself with a one-shot advantage over his playing partner with a birdieable par-5 ahead that could result in his second victory on Tour.
Before Henley could hit his third shot from 40 yards left of the green, McIlroy butter-cut a 5-wood 238 yards over water to within 13 feet for eagle and a Houdini-like escape with the trophy. Going from up-and-down for a win to possibly needing to get up-and-down to tie McIlroy should he make his eagle putt, Henley chunked his pitch halfway to the hole. A long birdie putt wouldn’t go and Henley found himself helpless watching McIlroy attempt to steal back his tournament.
McIlroy burned the right edge, though, tapped in for birdie and Henley made his par, joining Russell Knox and Ryan Palmer in a four-way tie at 8-under par through 72 holes and earning a trip back to the 18th tee for a sudden-death playoff.
From there, Henley alone reached the putting surface in two. McIlroy was unable to duplicate his exceptional shot from the fairway, flying the green and nestling into a unfortunate lie in the bunker that didn’t allow him to get the spin on the shot he wanted. Knox had a 22-foot birdie putt that went begging, as did Palmer with a 10-footer for 4. McIlroy’s birdie chip ran up the blade and came up eight feet short and Henley, cool as you’d like, brushed his eagle putt to within three feet, gave that hat tip you saw above and buried the birdie putt for the win.
The win gave Henley his second title in two years on the PGA Tour, joining the aforementioned McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Harris English as the only four players on the PGA Tour to have won multiple times before turning 25 years old. The $1 million payday also got Henley to No. 46 in the world rankings, punching his ticket for this week’s WGC Cadillac Championship down the road at Doral.
Henley will see McIlroy again next week, as well as his third-round playing partner Lee Westwood and the rest of the top-50 in the world golf rankings.
More on the WGC to come later this week, as well as the new Doral, the Donald and the return of Victor Dubuisson.
You’ve read enough, so for the video of the day you have to see the putt Paula Creamer made to win the HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore. If you’d like some more, here’s the accompanying story from GolfDigest.com’s Local Knowledge blog.