In February, Tiger Woods walked away from Riviera Country Club on the Friday afternoon of the Genesis Open and knew little about what his golf future held.
Winless since 2013 and coming off two years of recovery from disc-fusion surgery, Woods missed the cut by shooting an ugly 76 in the second round in L.A., and hit fewer than half the greens in regulation over two days.
The round he shot Sunday at Bellerive Country Club in the PGA Championship — a six-under 64 that pushed him to a solo second behind Brooks Koepka — was impossible to imagine.
“I didn’t know what my schedule would be,” Woods said Sunday, after he’d created the Tiger roars of old. “I didn’t know how many tournaments I would play this year, or if I would even play. So each tournament brought its own challenges.
“And so at the beginning of the year, if you would say, yeah, I would have a legit chance to win the last two major championships … with what swing? I didn’t have a swing at the time. I had no speed. My short game wasn’t there yet. My putting was OK.
“But, god, I hadn’t played in two years. So it’s been a hell of a process for sure.”
Woods’ future is much clearer now. With his finish, he rose to 20th in the FedEx Cup points race, and that puts him in good position to play in the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013.
It was a building process. Woods had back-to-back top-five finishes on the Florida Swing. He tied for 32nd at the Masters, 11th at the Players Championship, and then put himself in contention at the British Open, eventually tying for sixth.
“I had to kind of figure this out on my own, and it’s been really hard,” Woods said of coming back from his surgery and the swing changes it required. “It’s a lot harder than people think.”
He pointed out that his result this week makes his case much stronger for U.S. captain Jim Furyk to make him a wild-card choice for the Ryder Cup. He moved up to 11th in the standings — two positions shy of an automatic bid.
“I’m just very pleased at what I’ve done so far,” Woods said, “and now to be a part of the Ryder Cup conversation, going from where I’ve come from to now in the last year, it’s been pretty cool.”
Woods, who continued his struggle to find a consistent driver swing, still faces a constant battle with younger players who are hitting it as powerfully as he once did. The long-hitting Koepka taking two majors this season is more evidence of that.
Woods noted Koepka hitting the ball 340 yards before it touches the ground.
“That’s the new game,” he said. “Dustin (Johnson) had done it, now Rory (McIlroy) is doing it. Brooksy does it, and you get a golf course this soft, you can just bomb away. Those guys – they’re driving it well, and they have such huge advantage because of the carry.”
Ryder Cup race
There were no changes in the standings for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and the automatic spots were established. For the U.S., in order: Koepka, Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson.
The European automatic qualifiers will be decided Sept. 2 at the conclusion of the Race to Dubai Tournament.
Scott’s strong week
Woods and Koepka are having redemptive seasons coming back from injuries. Adam Scott was encouraged by his third-place finish — three behind Koepka — because he’s struggled so badly with his game for nearly two years.
With 65s in the second and third rounds, the 2013 Masters champion got into the final group with Koepka. The result was his best of the season and only his second top-10 of the year.
On Sunday, Scott made five birdies in a seven-hole stretch from the seventh through 13th to tie Koepka for the lead. But he couldn’t birdie any of the final five holes and bogeyed the 18th when he hit into the trees.
“It feels good because I feel like generally I performed well in that situation, and it’s not like I’d forgotten what to do, playing in a final group of a major or playing in contention late on Sunday in a major,” Scott said. “But there’s always things to work on when you’re not the winner, I think.
“I certainly want to keep improving. I can’t stop here. I’d like to play really well the next few weeks in the playoffs and try and make a run all the way through and then take some satisfaction out of this year.”
Koepka’s classy move
At the 18th, Koepka had a short par putt to finish his victory. He could have marked and waited to take the champion’s tap-in. But he decided to putt out, so as not to distract Scott in his par putt to tie Woods for second place.
“I didn’t want to take away from anything he was doing,” Koepka said.
Playing with Scott, a decade older at 38, was a big deal for Koepka, who grew up idolizing the Aussie.
“Surreal. That’s all I can say,” Koepka said. “I remember when I watched Adam win the Players (Championship in 2004). I was so mad when he hit in the water. I was probably as mad as he because I was rooting so hard. … He’s got the best golf swing ever. He’s one of the nicest guys once you meet him, too.”