GREENSBORO, N.C. — Whatever the strained odds that Tiger Woods would find his former self while climbing the PGA Tour’s playoff ladder — and maybe even find himself back at the Tour Championship in Atlanta — they died a pauper’s death Sunday.
Woods needed nothing less than a victory here at the Wyndham Championship to assure himself a place in the FedEx Cup playoffs. That was nowhere to be found in a final round that, essentially, contained fewer exclamation points than a Steven Wright monologue.
Woods began the day in second place, two off the lead. He ended in a tie for 10th, four back. And hinted afterward that yet another sore precinct – his hip – was heard from this week.
Wood declared after his third round that he would have to “go get it,” on a Sedgefield Country Club course that invites measured aggression. His even-par 70, a full stroke and then some over the field scoring average, did not qualify. “No, I didn’t do that,” he said afterward. “Davis obviously did.”
Woods may not have played his way into the playoffs, which begin Thursday at The Barclays with the top 125 in FedEx Cup points. But Sea Island grandfather Davis Love III, more than 11 years Woods’ senior and with a list of ailments every bit as weighty, did. He rode a final-round 64 to his first PGA Tour victory in seven years.
Oh, and the victory also comes with an invite to next year’s Masters, a tournament dear to Love’s heart and one that has cruelly excluded him since 2011.
Love, 51, became the third oldest player to win on Tour, coincidentally on the very same course on which Sam Snead became the oldest-ever champion (52 and change) in 1965. This place is better for men of a certain age than a convertible and hair plugs.
Here’s the personification of “go and get it”: Love eagled both par-5s Sunday. The old fella, once so famed for his length, still can scoot it down the fairway if the wind is right.
Love launched a full hour before Woods teed off in the penultimate twosome. Love then patiently waited around the practice range and the clubhouse, as cool as a 20-time Tour winner with nothing else to prove, to see if anyone could match the 17 under total he had posted. None could.
All activity in front of and behind Love went greatly unnoticed while the world’s 286th-ranked player sucked up all the oxygen in the Piedmont Triad metropolitan area. Even when Woods’ twosome partner Scott Brown aced the par-3 third hole, this was the single loudest exhortation from a tournament-record crowd when the two exited the green:
“C’mon, Tiger, keep your head up!”
If they all played in the considerable shadow of a star who is himself in eclipse, well, that is but harsh reality. We’re talking about a sport that remains highly susceptible to any suggestion that Woods has a competitive pulse. Just give the masses a hint – as he did by holding a share of the 36-hole lead here and by stringing together three rounds in the 60s for the first time this year. And they will sit up and notice.
Ah, but that pesky fourth round.
All his playoff possibilities evaporated at No. 11, where Woods was rejoined by the worst of the gremlins that have infected his game. Chipping from just off the green, he shot the ball across its wide expanse to the rubbish on the other side. Where that one was thin, the next chip, a delicate short-sided thing, was chunky, and failed to make it back to the putting surface. By the time Woods finally rescued his ball from the cup, he had himself a triple-bogey 7.
“Solid, right in the middle of the hole,” he said of his last putt, with a rueful smile.
A string of four birdies over the final six holes will have to be enough to keep him warm for a couple months and his only top 10 of the year. “I got lots of soccer games and practices to go to, so I’ll be doing that and just working out, training and trying to get more fit,” he said. Better that he take off some more time, given how he occasionally seemed in discomfort on Sunday’s back nine, later mentioning the grouchy hip.
The winner was conciliatory. “If you look at my game and Tiger’s game, we’re making a lot of progress,” Love said. “We’re getting better and better rather than going the other direction.”
Only one, however, moves on to the next tournament. And for the second consecutive year, no Tiger for sure at East Lake in September. The event still will proceed as scheduled.
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