Where’s Rory? Rickie who?
So much for the young dudes knocking off the old codgers -- or at least one particular aging superstar, as 36-year-old Tiger Woods schooled a shockingly ragged Rickie Fowler in the final round of the Memorial Tournament. Meanwhile, as the now 73-time PGA Tour winner was adding another chapter to his legend and making everyone’s highlight reel on his way to a two-stroke victory at Jack Nicklaus’ event, “the next Tiger Woods,” Rory McIlroy, was off somewhere licking his wounds after a spectacular two-round flameout back on Friday.
In Sunday’s finale, what promised to be an entertaining match between the flashy kid and the wily veteran in the next-to-last group turned into a virtuous performance, as Woods stole the show from a supposed heir apparent. After a birdie start for Fowler, it was all-Tiger, all-the-time, as Woods chose the perfect venue to tie Nicklaus for career Ws with play that shocked and awed even the Golden Bear. It was more than fitting that Woods should tie Nicklaus for second on the all-time wins list at Jack’s tourney, on Jack’s course, and with Jack waiting on the 18th green to shake his hand.
“He had to rub it in my face right here, didn’t he?” Nicklaus told reporters with a laugh during a joint press conference with Woods. “No, if he's going to do it, which he was obviously going to, I'd like to see it happen here. That was good. That was great. And the way he did it, you know, he just played great.”
For sure, Sunday’s performance was vintage Tiger. Down four shots to start the day, he carded three birdies on his final four holes to notch a 5-under 67. The coup de grace, of course, was his flop shot from 50 feet away in deep rough that he holed for birdie to cap a tremendous comeback, wrap up his fifth win at Muirfield Village, and earn huge praise from Nicklaus.
“It was one of the hardest [shots] I’ve pulled off,” Woods conceded about the “really difficult” shot from a bad lie. “This one was a good one.”
The win was Woods’ second of the season, and one that the victor deemed more difficult than the triumph he chalked up in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It also came two weeks before the U.S. Open and put an end to a dismal stretch of play for the 14-time major champion, who sandwiched T40s at the Masters and the Players Championship around a missed cut at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Sunday, Woods made birdies when he needed them down the stretch. His two-putt birdie on 15 pulled him within a shot of the Rory who didn’t miss the cut -- Sabbatini. Then came the awesome shot at 16 that put Woods into a tie for the lead and and elicited a roar from the crowd that rolled down to co-leader Sabbatini on the 15th green.
While Sabbatini made his par on 15, the game was all over, as he lost his tee shot on 16 into the right bunker and had to settle for bogey. Meanwhile, Woods parred 17 and finished with a flair. From the 18th fairway, he launched a 9-iron to the back of the green, watched as it hit the ridge and curled back toward the hole, and drilled a 10-footer for birdie.
As for Fowler, the 23-year-old with flowing tresses, a flat-billed cap, and a huge following completely blew up with a final-round 12-over 84. That’s a mind-blowing 17-shot differential between Fowler’s horrendous score and Woods’ 67.
“One of those days,” Fowler said, philosophically of a truly awful round that included three double-bogeys and a mess of regular ones. “I made birdie on the first hole and I pulled one on two and just kind of got behind the 8‑ball....Going to get a lot of Sundays from now on, some good ones and some bad ones, and this is not going to be he last bad one.”
Still, Fowler acknowledged that it was kind of cool to have a front-row seat to history.
“[TIger] obviously loves being in the moment, and that's where he kind of gets down, focuses and hits those shots,” Fowler, said about Woods‘ miraculous chip-in at 16. “It was fun to see.”