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Tour Confidential: Was Tiger Woods’s Sunday finish more encouraging or discouraging?

July 23, 2018

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they discuss the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. Tonight we discuss the British Open (and Tiger Woods’s finish).

1. The good news for Tiger Woods: He briefly held the outright lead on the back nine Sunday at Carnoustie before finishing three back in a tie for sixth. The bad news: he unraveled on the back nine, double-bogeying the 11th and bogeying the 12th to take himself out of serious contention. In 10 Sunday starts this year, Woods has only once played the back nine without a bogey or worse (Valspar). Are you more encouraged by his ability to get into the mix Sunday or discouraged that he can’t stay there?

Josh Sens, contributing writer (@JoshSens): As Bob Dylan says, any day above ground is a good day and cause for encouragement. But for Tiger to have the great he needs to win a major, he’s gonna have to have confidence enough in his driver to pull it when it’s called for. He doesn’t seem to be there yet.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): Since Tiger was able to leave driver mostly in the bag, Carnoustie was a good course for him. While not a victory, this was a positive step. Did anyone really expect him to win the first major in which he contended? The bogeys he made on the back nine on Sunday came from rough moments in the, um, rough. No drives OB, no chip yips, no shaky putts. If he stays on this track, he’s going to win somewhere. But I don’t think his first title in this comeback will be a major.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: He should absolutely be encouraged, of course. Given where he was and where he is? If that’s how he feels, that’s how I feel. Because it’s his career, not mine.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@dylan_dethier): He nearly pulled off that flop shot at 11; if he had, who knows? Of course it’s encouraging. Going into the day, a Tiger win looked like a mega-longshot, after all, and we were left with the most thrilling day of golf spectating in recent memory. Tiger has just set the bar so high in years past that any time he’s near the lead we expect him to slam the door. It’s tough to do.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): Much more encouraged. I don’t think many realize how difficult it is to get in contention at a major championship, especially coming back from everything he has dealt with in the last few years with injuries. We were a few groups in front of Tiger today and when he first tied and then took the lead outright there was a buzz that hasn’t been felt at a major for quite a while. It helped that there were so many great players near the top, of course, but to truly push the needle the game needs Tiger. I’m sure he’s angry he missed this opportunity to close this one out, but I think a week or two from now he will look back and be thrilled to have been back in the mix.

Jess Marksbury, associate editor (@jess_marksbury): That Tiger claimed the outright lead on the back nine today was wonderfully unexpected. But the euphoria ended so quickly! When the Tiger of old took command, he never looked back. THAT’S what we’re really missing. Just getting in the mix is not what we’re ultimately hoping for Tiger’s return. We want to see him perform in the clutch. Based on what we saw today, he still has work to do. But overall, yes, count me as encouraged!

MORE: Tiger Woods makes it exciting before falling short

2. Years from now, will we look back at the 147th British Open as one of Tiger’s last best chances … or the beginning of a late-career revival?

Sens: As Jeff noted above, this was a great course for Tiger, and he had a great chance on Sunday. But I don’t think we’ll be looking back at this as a pivotal moment one way or the other. The pivotal moment in this latest phase of his career has already happened. He’s back competing. This week showed us a lot of what we’ve seen from Tiger already this season. A lot of fine iron play. An ability to scratch out a score after poor shots. And a lack of trust in his big stick. But it won’t be the last of his chances.

Ritter: I’d say the late-career revival happened when he got back to No. 1 in 2013. This is something different. But if he stays healthy and continues to practice and play as much as he’d like, I think he’ll be major-ready in ‘19.

Bamberger: If he can play meaningfully in 30 more majors, that’s a lot. If he can be in the lead on Sunday in five of them, that’s huge. This was one of them. It was one of his best chances.

Marksbury: Totally agree, Michael. I’m a Tiger optimist. But he had the outright lead with eight holes to play. I’d love to think that a position like that can and will be the norm going forward, but we all know how much the stars need to align to win a major championship. If this is the beginning of a late-career revival, I think this week’s performance will still be viewed as one of his last best chances.

Dethier: There’s nothing about Tiger’s current game that looks unsustainable, right? He seems healthy and fully engaged with the process of getting better. Some courses will favor him more than others, but I’d expect him to continue to contend. That’s more important than his final result this week.

Wood: Assuming his health stays where it is, I really think it will be the beginning of a career revival. By finishing where he did he qualified for the Bridgestone, where he has won an astounding eight times. I have to think he is licking his chops and looking to win there again in what very sadly may be the last event for the Tour there. But what a fitting send off it would be for the greatest champion at Firestone to check off No. 9.

3. Your Champion Golfer of the Year, Francesco Molinari, was already the hottest golfer on the planet with two wins and two seconds in his previous five starts. And now he’s a major winner. In his 35th year, what explains the Italian’s sudden dominance?

Sens: As has been said about the economy, it’s the short game, stup… Also, if we’re to believe Molinari — and why wouldn’t we? — his new mental game coach has put him in a different frame of mind. Talk about great free advertising this week for Dave Aldred.

Ritter: Mental game, and that short game. He got up-and-down from everywhere in the Sunday breeze during a bogey-free round. As everyone else on the leaderboard endured hiccups and full-blown breakdowns, Molinari never cracked. A very deserving winner.

Bamberger: I don’t know his game well, but is there a weakness? Plus, he just looks tough. Not jumpy in any way. Love his game and his manner.

Dethier: He’s just been relentless. By far the most impressive stat coming out of the weekend was the number of weekend bogeys from Molinari: zero. At Carnoustie, that’s nuts.

Wood: Golf can be witchcraft. One minute you can’t miss, the next you can’t do anything right. Sometimes things just absolutely click and that seems to have happened. He’s always been a phenomenal ball-striker with steely insides, and it seems his new mental approach has given him the confidence to harness the magic. Sometimes it’s better not to analyze it, just ride the wave.

Marksbury: Molinari was so consistent today, and with everyone falling down around him, he was in a position where steady, good golf was all it took to raise the jug. Despite all his good play over the past several weeks, he was still seen as a sleeper, so the underdog mentality probably helps lower the stress of expectation, too.

4. Fifty-four-hole co-leader Jordan Spieth was the favorite heading into Sunday but posted a 76, his worst-ever final round in a major. Was his final round the biggest disappointment of the week?

Sens: No doubt it was disappointing to him, but the positive spin Spieth put on it afterwards was credible, too. He’s been searching for a good part of this season, so for him to get into the final group on Sunday was also something of the surprise of the week. His overall takeaway seemed upbeat. But if you’re looking for a dark lining in the silver cloud… lots of short putts missed again.

Bamberger: It was such a spectacular week, on such a spectacular course, with such an interesting range of players and personalities in contention, I cannot even think of it in terms of disappointments.

Ritter: He put himself in some tough spots on Sunday, and unlike at Birkdale, where he was able to escape from the driving range, this time he was punished virtually every time he went offline. And like Sens said, he didn’t make much of anything. But overall it was a nice rebound week for Spieth, given the way the rest of his season has gone.

Dethier: I think we’ve seen that this is sort of who Spieth is, right? Rather than a disappointment, it felt like the next chapter in the career of one of golf’s most interesting competitors. He’ll be back — and we don’t know what’ll happen once he is.

Wood: I second what Michael said above. It was a phenomenal week in every way, and in the end there can be only one champion. Jordan was back in contention and that’s a huge improvement from his recent results. But why oh why couldn’t he have shot 76 last year?

Marksbury: I think all the week’s disappointments were on Friday, when so many top players missed the cut. It was super fun to see Jordan back at the top of the leaderboard this weekend. Golf is so, so hard, especially in the conditions the players were facing on Sunday. I hope this marks a turnaround for him, because his good golf is so entertaining.

5. Fearsome Carnoustie lacked some of the teeth that it has flashed in years past with Molinari posting eight under and 24 players finishing under par. What did you make of the setup?

Sens: It’s always a good indication when the setup isn’t the story, and it wasn’t this week. The calm winds and the dry ground, yes, but not the setup. Two thumbs up in that regard.

Bamberger: Oh, no — it was plenty hard. The par 5s are short, or can be. The rough was thin in the summer heat. The course is great and the R&A takes what nature gives you.

Ritter: Even with guys ripping it record distances off the tee in the early rounds, Carnoustie still held up as a tough and fair test. I loved it all week. Can’t wait for the Open to get back there.

Dethier: It was awesome. Carnoustie has great character and we saw a golf course that played differently all four days as the wind and weather moved through. It produced a fantastic leaderboard, too, suggesting this was a fair test.

Wood: It was honestly one of the best major setups I have ever seen in my 22 years of caddying. It was perfect, and you had to deal with every condition imaginable. We started the tournament with the firmest and fastest fairways I’ve ever seen; there’s no question most of the fairways were running faster than the greens. We moved into rain and some wind on Friday. Saturday was a perfect day to be aggressive with little wind and the course softened by the rain, and Sunday we saw a completely new golf course in every way than anything we’d seen the previous seven days. The bounce was back, firm fairways, high winds from a direction we hadn’t played all week — it tested every part of your mental and physical game. And for my money, Carnoustie is the most well-bunkered course on the planet. On every tee shot the discussion went something like this: “Well, we can take this bunker out of play by hitting this club on that line, or we can take the other bunker out of play by hitting that club on this line, or we can split the difference and hit it in between all three of those bunkers, but we cannot take them all out of play. We simply cannot. Pick your poison, choose the challenge you want to confront and hit a golf shot.” The USGA could learn a lesson from the R&A in my opinion. The course honestly didn’t seem like they had to do a lot to it. The golf course is the golf course and there are no gimmicks or tricks or mistakes in the setup. It’s demanding and fair. It rewarded good shots and penalized bad ones. Simple.

Marksbury: Hard to top those takes. There’s a reason the British Open is so much fun to watch. Carnoustie ticked all the boxes. Links golf is awesome to watch, and the Sunday afternoon leaderboard is really all you need to see to know that it was a perfect venue and setup.

6. The final major of the season — the PGA Championship at Bellerive — is just 17 days away! Who ya got?

Bamberger: Matt Kuchar.

Wood: Michael Bamberger, I’m finding myself agreeing with you quite a bit these days.

Ritter: Spieth. Even if he doesn’t win and complete the career slam, I’ve seen enough from him at majors to feel confident that he’s going to contend — and it’s going to be fun to watch.

Sens: Justin Rose. Because I pick him in pretty much every major.

Marksbury: Agree, Josh! Rose is so, so close. It’s gotta happen soon!

Dethier: Tiger Woods! I picked him last night and felt like a prophet for at least 30 minutes; a win feels inevitable and he’ll be coming off a heater at Firestone.