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The downside to Tiger-mania’s return

He hadn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2009 or anywhere in the world since 2014. His final-round 65 allowed him to rally from six strokes behind to claim the title. Then there was the other eye-opening 65 on Sunday; it came from the defending Masters champion, the impending father-to-be, who moved up to finish alone in fourth place. And then there was the 2016 Ryder Cup hero, mostly invisible during 2017, who had a chance to force a playoff before he bogeyed 18 to lose by one.

Pretty dramatic stuff from Paul Casey, who won the Valspar Championship on Sunday with his 65; from Sergio Garcia, who appears to be rounding into form less than a month before he defends his Masters title; and from Patrick Reed, who might be gearing up for another dramatic Ryder Cup performance. Or more.

Yes, it was quite a Sunday afternoon at Innisbrook, the venerable resort about 25 miles from downtown Tampa.

And yet, 95 percent of the people at the golf course Sunday barely noticed Casey, Garcia or Reed. Among non-golf fans—many of whom, based on TV ratings, found their way to NBC’s telecast—100 percent couldn’t have picked those three from a lineup.

Yes, Tiger-mania is back.

Woods didn’t win Sunday but, for the first time since the summer of 2013, he had a very real chance. He didn’t play especially well, shooting a one-under-par 70, but he did conjure some memories when he drained a 44-foot birdie putt on the 17th green to pull within one stroke of Casey with one hole to play.

Then Woods reminded everyone that, at 42, he is not the dominant player of old. He hit a 2-iron off the 18th tee, followed with a 7-iron well short of the flag and then allowed his nearly 40-foot birdie putt to drift and stop a good two feet short.

That left Casey, who did everything but kiss Woods’ ring during the course of the week, with his second PGA Tour win and, at the age of 40, in good position to secure a place on Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team. That would be his first appearance for Europe since 2008, a gap created in large part by Casey’s choice to play fulltime in the U.S. This year, he’s eligible and he’s likely to be in Paris.

Garcia and Reed also will be there. Outside of Colin Montgomerie and Ian Poulter, Garcia’s been Europe’s most consistent player, dating back to his debut at the age of 19 at Brookline.

Reed will be on Jim Furyk’s team, regardless of where he finishes in the point standings. He has to be. He and Jordan Spieth have become the Americans’ most formidable pairing during the last two Ryder Cups, and Reed’s singles win over Rory McIlroy at Hazeltine was one of the great matches in the venerable history of Sam Ryder’s little trophy.

“When he brings that kind of emotion to golf, he’s as good as anyone,” McIlroy said after a 1-up loss to Reed in their amazing match. “I know the Ryder Cup’s special, but with his talent and competitiveness, I don’t understand why he hasn’t done more in majors. When I look at a leader board somewhere and he’s tied for 40th, I shake my head. Can’t believe it.”


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