Okay, so here’s how the fourth round of the Valspar Championship came and went. Rookie Corey Conners needed only three holes to cough up his lead, and by the time he walked off the 72nd green, he had tumbled all the way to 16th. In his place atop the field was an in-the-40s tour veteran whose career resembled a roller-coaster ride; in between the former All-American’s victories were bouts with injury, a divorce, and general self-doubt.
In short, yesterday’s developments at Copperhead didn’t go as conventional wisdom foresaw. After all, Tiger Woods didn’t win. Paul Casey did. They may have shared the same canvas as evidenced by the similarities in the general descriptions of the state of their respective games, but they most certainly painted with different colors. And for one weekend, striking red was bettered by subdued green. Forget the anticipation of the 14-time major titleholder beginning the final 18 just a stroke off the top of the leaderboard. Never mind the storybook ending for which it would have made.
Certainly, Casey deserved to prevail. It helped that he teed off some 80 minutes ahead, his 50-to-one odds of taking the tournament reflecting how far his score was. He then negotiated the course with no pressure, far from the eight-deep throngs that followed Woods’ exploits as part of the penultimate pairing. And with conditions at Innisbrook providing ample opportunities to go low, he made the most of his situation. He made the turn at three under for the round, surged to the top with three consecutive birdies from the 11th, and kept his lead with pars the rest of the way.
The wait in the locker room was nerve-racking, to say the least. At some points, Casey thought Woods would keep a date with fate. At others, he fretted that Patrick Reed would capitalize on chances. When the battlesmoke cleared, however, his score held up. For the first time since 2009, he was on a United States PGA Tour podium anew. And, given his showing in recent memory, the outcome wasn’t really a surprise; he led the circuit in consecutive cuts made at 27, and among them were three Top-Five finishes in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and 11 Top 10s in the last year.
In a nutshell, the Valspar Championship provided the fireworks it promised when Woods committed to play. And as he treks to Bay Hill this week, all eyes will be on how he keeps his momentum going heading into the Masters. Meanwhile, Casey gets to savor a hard-earned triumph made all the more sweet by the threat of a living legend.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.