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The Jury's back with a thumbs up


Before last week the jury was still out on Tiger Woods. Could he ever again be the great force he once was, they were asking,

No longer. It is true that the 14-time major winner eventually fell short by a single shot on Sunday of winning his 80th US PGA Tour title at the Valspar Championship. 

It was captured instead by another 40-something Paul Casey of England who came out of the pack to close with a brilliant 65.

But it is also true to say that Tiger's performance, loudly applauded all the way by highly supportive galleries, gave a clear indication that he is firmly back on track to becoming a force again with a real chance of more victories.

Indeed right now it would be surprising if he is not seen as one of the favourites to win next week at the late, great Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill resort in Orlando where he has already won eight times and which he thinks will be "good to get back to" in view of "some great memories" he has of the event.

Building on the momentum from his 12th-place finish at the Honda Classic two weeks ago in his third official tournament since undergoing spinal fusion surgery last April, Woods had already whisked up a fair bit of his old magic when he came to the penultimate 17th and turned a no-real-chance-of-winning situation into a real chance of doing just that by nailing one of his famous, must-make putts for a birdie from all of 43 feet.

It took his score to 9-under and gave him the chance to force a playoff with a birdie on the final hole.

It was reported Tiger's his first appearance in the Valspar helped swell the week's crowd figures from 115,000 to more than 150,000 and the thousands who had lined every fairway he had played were back again shouting encouragement as he waited to play an uphill 185-yard approach shot on the final hole.

One fan called out: “We love you, Tiger!” and another, “C’mon Big Cat!” Yet another yelled, “Tiger, this is what you’re meant for." 

But there was no famed Woods finish this week. He left his approach 35 feet from the pin on a tricky, sloping green and this time he needed two putts just to get his par. 

He hadn't made it, but they cheered him just the same and after acknowledging their support with a broad smile and a tip of his cap which revealed a bald patch, he strode off to tell the media, “I felt very comfortable, actually. I’ve been here before a few times.

“My game was quite solid this entire week. As a whole, I felt very good about what I did. Getting better. Thank you for all the support!”

He later tweeted: ”Wow, what an amazing week ... people, atmosphere, adrenaline, back nine on Sunday, man I’ve missed this." 

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Neville Leck

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