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Monday, Aug 20, 2018
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Tiger Woods was in British Open hunt. Now another major win doesn’t seem so improbable.

He was in the hunt. For real.

False alarm?

Did you care?

For what seemed like days (it wasn't even an hour), Tiger Woods sat atop a leaderboard at a golf major Sunday.

With everyone fading, he was 7 under and all alone at the British Open at Carnoustie with just eight holes left to play.

Suddenly, Sunday morning became more than Sunday morning. Suddenly, who cared about the start of Bucs training camp, or Jameis Winston, or whether the patriot-in-chief would try to throw players in the hoosegow if they didn't stand for the anthem at preseason games? Who cared about the finale of the Rays-Marlins Citrus Series?

Tiger Woods was in the lead of a final round at a major, and nothing else mattered. Even against my will, nothing else mattered. It was positively mesmerizing. Suddenly, Jack Nicklaus, with his record 18 majors, had someone chasing him again: Tiger.

It was not to be. After a surge that began Saturday, Woods finished where he started Sunday, at 5 under, three strokes back of winner Francesco Molinari, Woods' playing partner in the final round, who emerged from a star-studded pack to become the first Italian golfer to win a major.

Back to Woods. As quickly as he came, he went, with a double bogey on the 11th and a bogey on the 12th. But for a few flickering moments — after birdies on the fourth and sixth holes, and an amazing approach shot out of a bunker on the 10th — it looked like Woods' day.

And it still seems as if it could be his day again, even now, at 42, 10 years after he won his last major.

And it was must-see TV. I've said it before: Tiger Woods doesn't move the needle in golf. Tiger Woods is the needle in golf.

This wasn't his performance in this year's Masters or U.S. Open. This was the real thing, in the hunt, and there's nothing to say Woods won't keep hunting, beginning with next month's PGA Championship, the year's final major. It doesn't seem nearly as improbable as it once did.

It's a remarkable comeback story, even if you're not a Woods fan, and I'm no apologist. The man made a train wreck of his life, his fault. And he struck just the wrong note when he took his monster yacht to the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.

But the bad back and the multiple surgeries since 2014 were not Woods' fault, just his bad luck, and it was hard to ever see him winning again, any tournament, much less a major. If he makes it all the way back to the top, it would be amazing.

And now it seems possible. It seemed very possible Sunday, which marked Woods' first top-10 finish at a major since 2013, since the British Open at Muirfield. Woods finished fourth at the Masters that same year.

His age works against him catching Nicklaus. There is no way around it: 42 is still 42. And winning majors has not gotten any easier. Look at the stars Sunday. Jordan Spieth, seeking his fourth major, shared the lead heading into the final round but crumbled. Rory McIlroy made a late charge, but it wasn't enough. Names everywhere couldn't get it done. Woods was just one of them.

Maybe this is fool's gold for Tiger lovers. Maybe he'll never get this close again. Maybe he'll remain stuck at 14 major wins, looking up at Jack, like everyone else.

But who would have thought he would have made it this far back out of the chasm? I never thought he would win another major. Now I'm not so sure. He had the walk and the look Sunday. He led the field in driving accuracy heading into the final round. He looked like Tiger on more than one hole, more than one shot.

Will it last?

All I know is Tiger Woods was there at one point Sunday, in the hunt. It seemed real. Seeing was believing.

It was hard to take your eyes off it.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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