Daunting as it might have been, there was some upside to being paired with Tiger Woods and the near-hysteria surging around him on the final day of the 100th PGA Championship on Sunday at Bellerive Country Club.
Lot of KU and Mizzou fans going back and forth (all week), and Tiger kind of canceled that out today … said Gary Woodland, the University of Kansas graduate and Topeka native who led the tournament after two rounds and finished tied for sixth. With him contending in a major and making putts, the energy was unbelievable. And thats what you want.
Meanwhile, what the golf world desperately wants is to see Woods return to being a force after a decade since winning a major, a span during which one of the worlds most popular athletes had been better known for a marital cheating scandal, a DUI and spinal fusion (his fourth back surgery) that might have brought a decisive end to a fading career.
Thats why a tournament won by Brooks Koepka nonetheless will be most remembered for the much-coveted re-emergence of runner-up Woods … and what it may portend.
Part of the yearning for this resurgence no doubt stems from natural enchantment with winners, especially ones with exotic back stories and charisma. Part of its about fascination with redemption and comebacks.
Stir them together, and you have the potent formula for Tiger-mania.
So when Woods entered Sunday four back of Koepka and in contention for his 15th major victory, you could feel the vibe at every twist and turn of the course.
You could see it in the throngs following and fixating on him, including Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, Olympic swimming icon Michael Phelps and a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper who marveled that Woods seemed to have the status of a demigod.
You could hear it in the Lets Go, Tiger chants that had to make Woodland wince one way or another on a day when he at times had to be distracted by the ruckus over Woods when he needed to concentrate.
And maybe you could appreciate the feeling about Woods most in the booming applause when he birdied the 18th hole to finish with a 6-under-par 64 his lowest score ever in the final round of a major and something Woodland suggested he just kind of ho-hummed.
His most stirring performance in years left Woods second, two shots behind winner Koepka, who shot 66 to finish with a 16-under 264 and claim his third major in the last seven.
But forgive Woods if his intense fist-pump in celebration at the end of his day was the sort of gesture normally reserved for when you win.
Given from where he has come to this weekend, when his last three rounds (66-66-64) were his best by four shots across 54 holes of a major, Woods relished this as much as anything hes done in a long time.
Oh, God: I didnt know if I was going to play golf again, so, yeah, he said, later adding, I hadnt played in two years (before this year). So its been a hell of a process, for sure.
A different part of the process than what it felt like at the British Open, when Woods had a lead and finished sixth. He was pretty ticked then and just short of jubilant here which he cautiously hopes can make for a springboard breakthrough.
Im in uncharted territory, he said, because no ones ever had a fused spine hitting it like Im hitting it.
To less fanfare but still before dozens of friends and family members and KU fans and even an MU fan who yelled, M-I-Z for you, Gary, this also is uncharted and revelatory new territory for Woodland, whose previous best in a major had been a 12th-place finish.
Somewhat betrayed by the putting game that had helped stake him to a 64 and 66 in the first two rounds, Woodland bogeyed three times in the first 10 holes. But he recovered with birdies on three of the next four to finish with a 1-under 69 on Sunday and 10-under 270 overall.
He immediately called himself frustrated about the day afterward but quickly offered had some sense of the bigger picture, saying he thinks he may have turned a corner.
You just build on it, he said.
Including by absorbing the experience with Woods in a tournament that left them sharing something else besides 18 holes: a future that suddenly looks more promising for each and one in particular that the golf world craves.
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