PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Sometimes David doesn’t beat Goliath.
With respect to 5-foot-7 Swede David Lingmerth, it wasn’t a fair fight. Not when Tiger Woods, by his own definition, is driving it well, flushing his irons, scrambling when needed, putting with consistency and healthy. By any definition, a five-tool freight train.
Perhaps not since his last top 10 at TPC Sawgrass (2009) has Woods been as prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of the quirky north Florida layout or the pointed barbs from Sergio Garcia.
“I feel like I'm driving it well, hitting it well with my irons, my distance control is good, short game is really solid, and I'm making my share of putts,” Woods said.
Of course, that blunt and chilling assessment came on Friday, when the faux major leaderboard resembled those of the bona fide Grand Slam variety. It wasn’t until Sunday dawned that Woods showed the world the full display of his arsenal.
The world No. 1 began the final round tied with rookie Lingmerth and Sergio Garcia, who solidified his status as Woods’ nemesis with a surreal episode early in Saturday’s second round.
He began his march to his second Players Championship trophy, and his first this decade, with a 10-footer for birdie at the first. By the time he turned he was a layup clear of the field and cruising.
It was quintessential Tiger – build a lead, play prevent defense on the closing nine and watch contenders fall away. But the 14th hole awaited. Woods played the par-4 14th in 3 over for the week, missed the fairway every day and when he popped up his tee shot into a water hazard late Sunday afternoon the normal game plan just wouldn’t do.
His double bogey at the 14th hole dropped Woods into a tie with Lingmerth, Garcia and Jeff Maggert at 12 under. One by one, however, they dropped away. They always do.
First it was Maggert, the 49-year-old senior-in-waiting, who dropped his tee shot in the watery abyss surrounding the 17th hole, followed by Lingmerth’s bogey at the 14th hole after missing the green with his approach shot.
But it will be Garcia’s pile-up at the island-green penultimate hole that will be remembered.
The Spaniard, who a day earlier sparked a heated give-and-take when he complained that Woods pulled a club on the second hole just as Garcia was hitting his second shot and prompted the crowd to react, missed his tee shot at the 17th and found the water. In a scene reminiscent of the movie “Tin Cup,” Garcia took his next shot from the tee box and again found the hazard.
Rinse, repeat, lose.
Garcia has now won a Players on the 17th hole – having beaten Paul Goydos in a playoff on the hole in 2008 – and now lost the PGA Tour’s flagship event there.
“That hole has been good to me for the most part. Today it wasn’t,” said Garcia, who took a quadruple-bogey 7 on the hole.
Garcia completed what was a challenging week with another tee shot into the drink at the 18th hole for a double bogey to tie for eighth. That’s a full sleeve lost in two holes and a good amount of public support in two days.
On Sunday morning following the completion of the weather-delayed third round, Garcia was asked if he would rather have been paired with Woods – they were tied at 11 under through 54 holes – for the final turn. His answer seemed to sum up the spat.
“I'm not going to lie, he's not my favorite guy to play with,” Garcia told Sky Sports. “He's not the nicest guy on Tour.”
On a week that started with Vijay Singh suing the Tour over his run-in with the circuit’s anti-doping policy, Garcia’s comments simply seemed to feed the contentiousness.
The only thing missing was a much-awaited announcement on anchoring, but that can wait for another day.
For Woods, his 78th Tour victory – in his 300th Tour start – was every bit the statement victory. One top-10 finish in his last decade at TPC Sawgrass had created a wave of second-guessing that seemed to reach a crescendo this week.
“We were on a mission,” Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava said. “He is too good of a player not to play well here.”
For the week, Woods was first in par-5 scoring (4.25), third in greens in regulation (76 percent), 19th in fairways hit (67 percent) and 38th in strokes gained-putting on his way to a closing 70 for a 13-under total and two-stroke victory over Lingmerth (72), Maggert (70) and Kevin Streelman (67).
Woods pulled away with a birdie at the par-5 16th hole, found the middle of the green at the graveyard that the 17th hole had become and marched up the 18th fairway looking like a new man before a friendly reminder from LaCava jarred him back to reality.
“He said to me, ‘This is what patience will do for you,’” LaCava said following Woods’ approach into the 72nd green. “I wanted him to know there was still work to be done.”
In many ways, Woods’ Players victory had the look of a precursor of what is to come. His game plan on the Stadium Course was to play control golf, miss in the right spots and plod the field into submission.
On Sunday, he hit just one driver and, other than the 14th hole, looked in control at a golf course that hasn’t always had a friendly-confines feel to it. With respect to the so-called “fifth major,” The Players looked strangely like a U.S. Open tuneup. If he can beat the best at TPC Sawgrass with fairway woods, wouldn’t Merion, which will measure in under 7,000 yards, succumb to a similarly measured approach?
“It's a great question,” Woods said when asked if a similar strategy will work next month in Philadelphia. “I've never played Merion. It sounds good in theory. But I don't know. We happened to get a dry, hot week where the ball was traveling. You've got to play the golf course for what it gives you.”
Merion can wait, for the first time in a decade Goliath took the honors at TPC Sawgrass.