Tiger Woods’ biggest statement comes after play in bold step

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods was never going to win the Players Championship on Sunday. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t make a strong statement.

And so he did, shooting a 3-under-par 69 to finish in a six-way tie for 11th place, seven shots behind winner Webb Simpson.

“I’m not that far off from winning golf tournaments,’’ Woods said, delivering his boldest statement of this comeback. “There’s no way I would have predicted I would be at this point the beginning of the year, the way I was just coming back and just trying to get a feel for it and then hopefully have a schedule. I didn’t know. But now I feel like I’ve got my playing feels and I’m playing tournament golf and I’ve got it.’’

Considering that Woods was tied for 69th after the opening round and made the cut on the number at 1-under par and was tied for 68th entering the weekend, his 65-69 finish on Saturday and Sunday cannot be ignored.

Still, it could have — should have — been better. For the second consecutive day, Woods allowed what could have been a spectacular round to fall short of what it might have been.

As he did in Saturday’s third round, Woods made a big move on the front nine. On Saturday, he shot 30 on the front. On Sunday, starting the day 11 shots behind Simpson, Woods shot 32 on the front.

When Woods birdied Nos. 11 and 12, he got to 14-under par and trailed Simpson by only four shots, tied for third place.

But, just like Saturday, Woods was unable to keep his run going on the back nine, instead stalling. After going 6-under through his first 12 holes, Woods played the last six in 3-over.

“I played so well this weekend, unfortunately I just didn’t cash in,’’ Woods said.

Woods hit his worst shot of the day on the par-3 17th hole, where his tee shot was woefully short and took a dip in the lake. It was the first time Woods has hit a ball into the water on 17 in 13 years and it resulted in a damaging double bogey and dropped him to 11-under par.

“I didn’t play particularly well in the first couple days, but I turned it around this weekend and I got it rolling,’’ Woods said. “If I would have got off to a better start this week, if I would have had the game I had this weekend the beginning of the week, I would have gave Webb a little bit of a run.’’

Woods, who will next play at the Memorial the first week of June in advance of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock, called his weekend play “extremely positive.’’

Of significance for Woods, who entered the week 92nd in the world rankings, is trying to climb into the top 50, which would qualify him for the WGC-Bridgestone in August in Akron, Ohio, where the tournament will be played for the last time.

“One of my goals is to get into Akron, one last time, before we leave there,’’ he said. “I’ve won there eight times and I would like to get there with one more chance. But I’ve got to do some work between now and then, hopefully put together one good event.’’

What Woods really meant when he said “one good event’’ was his first win since 2013.

“He’ll win sometime soon enough,’’ said Jordan Spieth, who was paired with Woods in the final round. “He’s certainly playing well enough to do so.’’

Justin Thomas became the No. 1-ranked player in the world for the first time in his career after his final-round 66 earned him a tie for 11th. That finish, coupled with Dustin Johnson’s tie for 17th place, allowed Thomas to overtake Johnson, who’d held the spot since February 2017.

“It means a lot, but it’s something I want to have for a long time,’’ Thomas said. “It’s not something I just want to have once. Like D.J. has and like Tiger did and other guys who have had it for a long time, that’s more of a goal of mine as opposed to just having it.

“It’s important, but it’s not something where it’s like I just want to do it once. I want to do it for a really, really long time, because that means I’m playing better than everybody else for an extended period of time.’’

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