By Leonard Shapiro for GlobalGolfPost
What if they held a PGA Tour event and nobody showed up to watch?
That’s about what happened Saturday at the AT&T National at Congressional, when high winds Friday night blew down more than 40 trees and left a trail of broken limbs and piles of debris all over the course. Tournament officials, concerned about safety issues, decided to keep spectators and most volunteers away from the course on a day when Tiger Woods quietly made his move toward the top of the leaderboard, accompanied by the sound of silence most of the way around.
Woods finished off that ascent on Sunday, when the fans were back in massive numbers, engaging in a thrilling duel down the back nine against first-round leader Bo Van Pelt. When Van Pelt bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes, Woods pounced on those mistakes and eventually claimed a two-shot victory when he made par on his final two holes.
“I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again,” Woods said Sunday evening. “That was six months ago. Here we are.... A lot of media people didn’t think I could win again. I could see the pieces coming together. It’s just a matter of time. Just stay the course. Give me a little bit of time, and I feel like this is what I can do.”
Van Pelt’s 50-foot birdie chip to tie at the final hole missed the cup by inches and he also missed the six-foot comebacker for one last bogey. He finished with a round of 71 and 6-under 278 that left him in solo second, a shot ahead of third place finisher Adam Scott (67-279).
A shot off the lead after 54 holes, Woods had a final-round 69 and 72-hole total of 8-under 276 to become the PGA Tour’s only three-time winner this season. He also won his own invitational event for the second time (he prevailed here in 2009), adding that to the 2012 trophies from the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando and Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.
More significantly, this was Woods’ 74th Tour triumph, one more than Nicklaus, his childhood idol who won his 73rd and last event at the 1986 Masters at age 46. Only Sam Snead, with 82 career wins, has more victories than Woods, now 36.
Woods didn’t budge in the world rankings, where he remained No. 4. Van Pelt disagreed.
“No offense to those other guys, but I think he’s the only guy to win three tournaments on Tour this year,” he said. “On three different golf courses and he was leading the U.S. Open after two days. So I’d say he’s playing the best golf in the world right now.”