Tiger Woods was long gone from the Honda Classic premises by the time Russell Henley dropped the final birdie putt on the first hole of a four-player, sudden-death overtime to collect his second PGA Tour victory. But the absence of the world No. 1, who withdrew from his second tour start of the year midway through his back nine on Sunday with back pain, overshadowed a colossal collapse by last year’s dropout, Rory McIlroy.
Woods’ Nike stablemate infamously quit in the middle of his second round in the 2013 playing of the kickoff to the Florida Swing but hung around through this year's entire tourney and then some as he displayed extraordinarily sloppy play down the stretch on his way to blowing the advantage he took into Sunday’s finale.
Bogeys at seven, nine, and 12 did not bode well for a stellar finish for the two-time major champion, but a wet double at No. 16 and and another bogey on 17 doomed his chances of going wire-to-wire for the win.
That, despite a finishing birdie on the par-5 18th after a stupendous approach shot from 245 yards out gave him an excellent shot at eagle.
"A 74 today wasn’t good enough to get the job done and even if I had won, it would have felt a little bit, um, undeserved in a way," McIlroy, who earned kudos from Twitter for sticking around for a post-playoff interview, told NBC after signing for a shocking 4-over and coming up short on his second go-round of the day on the 18th hole.
"When you go out with a two-shot lead you have to play well enough to go out and win the thing. If I had have won today I would have counted myself very lucky," he added, sounding a lot like someone just happy to be nominated for an Academy Award. "So just gotta pick myself up, get back at it, and try to get myself back into contention at Doral next week and try to get the job done there."
Speaking of Donald Trump’s completely overhauled TPC Blue Monster, the status of Woods’ ability to try to defend his WGC-Cadillac Championship title -- as well as his health looking forward to the Masters in April -- remained even murkier than the water in the hazard that swallowed McIlroy’s ball on the 16th on Sunday.
Stuck on 14 major championships since 2008 and seemingly a lock to break Sam Snead’s record of 82 overall tour wins entering the season, Woods is now back on the shelf after his sixth career WD in 297 career starts. Should he have to skip next week’s event and Bay Hill two weeks later, the two remaining Masters warmups on his schedule, he would enter the first major of the season with only 10-and-a-half rounds of worldwide competitive golf under his belt.
The injury, which Woods disclosed in August ahead of the first FedExCup contest at Liberty National, seemed par for the course for Tiger, who has had the worst start in his professional career but appeared finally comfortable with his swing as he played himself back into the tournament with a 5-under 65 on Saturday.
"I felt a lot better today," he told reporters after his third round that followed a 71-69 launch to his Florida swing. "Yesterday I didn't feel like I had much of a swing but today I hit the ball really solid, which was nice."
2014 Honda Classic
2014 Honda Classic
Sunday’s outward 40, which included a water-logged double-bogey on the par-5 third hole, took care of that and now it’s back to the trainer’s table for the 79-time tour winner, who faces an uncertain future.
"It’s my lower back with spasms," Woods said in a statement. "It started this morning warming up."
Woods, who likened Sunday's pain to that which he experienced last summer, was unsure if he would be up to playing two competitions in the next three weeks.
"It’s too early to tell," he said. "I need treatment every day until Thursday to try and calm it down. We’ll see how it is."
A year after winning five times on tour and with the major championships on four venues on which he has performed well in the past, 2014 set up well for Woods to put a dent in Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 grand slam victories.
Nicklaus, in the NBC booth during Sunday’s finale on his Champions Course at PGA National, boosted Woods to set his own record -- with one critical caveat.
"Tiger is so talented, he’s such a good player. I still think he’s going to blow by my record, I really do -- if he’s healthy," Nicklaus said. "As you start to get older you have problems, everyone has problems. If Tiger can stay physically healthy he’s got probably 10 more years and that’s 40 major championships ... The game is not easy on the body though, it takes its toll."
Tiger Woods is living proof of that.