Tiger Woods raises expectations after Honda Classic; Justin Thomas wins in playoff
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas continued his roll on the PGA Tour with a playoff victory Sunday in the Honda Classic.
Tiger Woods looks like he could get on a roll, too.
While Thomas walked away from the windswept Champions Course at PGA National with the championship hardware after defeating Luke List with a birdie on the first playoff hole, Woods left with a nice haul of confidence after posting his best finish on the PGA Tour since 2015.
Woods finished at even-par after rounds of 70-71-69-70 – his third-round 69 being his first round in the 60s on the PGA Tour since 2015 – and finished eight shot behind in 12th – his best finish since he tied for 10th in the 2015 Wyndham Championship.
Woods, who missed a year after spinal fusion surgery, had finished in a tie for 23rd in the Farmers Insurance Open in January and missed the cut in last week’s Genesis Open.
“My expectations have gone up,” Woods said. “I’m hitting the ball better. I knew I could putt it, I know I could chip it, but I didn’t know how well I was going to hit it. … I feel very happy the way I played the entire week. I really controlled my ball flight. This wind, you can get exposed pretty easily and I felt like I had control. I feel like each time out I’ve gotten better and I’ve gotten more of a feel for playing tournament golf. The last couple days, it felt easy to play tournament golf. The warm up felt good. I get into the flow of the round. I could find the rhythm of the rounds faster.”
Thomas has made things look easy for some time now. The reigning PGA Tour player of the year won for the seventh time in his last 30 starts on the PGA Tour. He now has eight Tour titles, including his first major triumph in last year’s PGA Championship.
It was his second win of the season. He and List finished at 8 under and headed to a playoff. Thomas hit his second shot onto the green on the par-5 18th and two-putted for the victory. He also birdied the 18th in regulation to get into the playoff.
Earlier in the round, he got a fortunate bounce off a rock wall on the par-3 5th hole and made par instead of being in the water.
“It was a hell of a battle out there,” said Thomas, who shot 67-72-65-68. “It feels awesome to come out on top.”
Woods didn’t feel awesome about the Bear Trap, the three-hole stretch starting at the 15th that is full of water and green and plenty of danger. For the week, he was 8 over par on the three holes. In Sunday’s final round, he birdied the 14th to pull within four shots of the leaders but then dumped a ball into the water for a double-bogey 5.
But all and all, Woods ranked second in the field in driving distance (319.1 yards) and first in the proximity to the hole with his approach shots (29 feet, three inches). He hit 27 of 36 greens on the weekend.
“I’m just amazed at how well Tiger is playing this week,” Jack Nicklaus said as he sat in the television tower during the telecast. “As he learns how to play again, to get mentally back into playing again, he’ll do just fine. I think he did great this week.”
So, too, did Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava. He said he likes that Woods is hitting a few more stinger shots with 3-woods and 2-irons and that he’s moving the ball both ways.
“I saw improvement every day, which was nice,” LaCava said. “A lot of good tee shots later in the week, the driver included. He seems to have his distance control back, so that’s a good sign. He’s working the ball both ways.
“I do think he’s getting a hair tired sometimes in the middle of the round. As he gets more rounds in, though, as he continues to walk five hours in the grind and the heat and stuff, he’ll build up some stamina.
“I see great strides. I didn’t want to panic after LA and I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but it’s nice to see him going forward.”
Moving forward will be more range sessions and rounds at nearby Medalist Golf Club. And if history is an indication, Woods will next play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in three weeks.
“I need to get back in the gym again and start training,” Woods said. “I just need to keep feeling good. Body feels good. I just need to keep feeling good. But I feel very positive about it. I’ve been away from tournament golf for so long, that I’m starting to feel the rounds. I’m starting to get into it quicker, feel the pace, feel the shots and get a better sense of it.
“The more I play tournament golf, the better I’ll get at it.”