Paul Casey won his first PGA Tour event since 2009 in the Valspar Championship as Tiger Woods came up just short in his own remarkable bid for an overdue victory.
Casey carded a final round of 65 on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort to set a clubhouse target of 10 under par, which American Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed looked set to match before he bogeyed the final hole.
Woods was two behind with three holes to play – Copperhead’s so-called “Snake Pit” – but holed from 40 feet for an unlikely birdie on the 17th and had a similar distance on the last to force a play-off.
But the 14-time major winner, playing just his fourth PGA Tour event since undergoing spinal fusion surgery last April, was unable to repeat the feat and had to settle for a share of second place.
“It was a very good week,” the 42-year-old told Sky Sports. “I’ve got a little bit better since the last time I played a couple of weeks ago and it was a very difficult week – tough conditions on a tough golf course, very demanding and I thought I held up really well.”
Asked how he felt being in contention for a first victory since August 2013, Woods added: “It felt very comfortable. I remember it and on top of that my game’s sharp and so it was a good day.
“Unfortunately I just didn’t hit the ball close enough to make a few putts. I missed a short one [for par] at four and should have birdied 14; those little mistakes over the course of a week will get you and it got me this week.”
Casey has won 13 times on the European Tour but his sole previous success on the PGA Tour came in the Houston Open in 2009 and he let slip a two-shot lead after 54 holes in the Tour Championship last September.
The 40-year-old began the final round five shots off the lead but carded four birdies and a bogey in a front nine of 33, before rolling in a hat-trick of birdies from the 11th.
Reed joined Casey at the top of the leaderboard with a birdie on the 14th but made a mess of the last, his long-range putt failing to get over the ridge in the green and rolling back to his feet.
“This is so much better than probably a lot of them [wins] put together,” Casey told Sky Sports. “Worked so hard for it – it’s tough to put it into words.
“There has been a lot [of pressure] and it’s got to the point where it’s gone the other way, where actually I’m playing very free golf, very relaxed and at peace with whatever happens on the golf course. I can say that because of my life away from the golf course, my wife and kids. To then get both is the icing on the cake.”
Casey has finished in the top six in the Masters in each of the last three years and added: “I’m excited, and not only for my game but the fact that Tiger’s playing great. It’s cool.
“I’m a fan of golf and to pip him is very special. He’ll be on top form when we get there [Augusta National] and I’m looking forward to it. I think I’ve got a good chance.”
Masters champion Sergio Garcia finished fourth after also carding a closing 65, with Ryder Cup team-mate Justin Rose a disappointing joint fifth. Rose birdied the opening hole and held the outright lead after Woods dropped a shot on the fourth, but bogeyed the 12th and 13th in a round of 72.
Thai teenager Phachara Khongwatmai posted a bogey-free round 65 to share a joint single-stroke lead with Italy’s Nino Bertasio at the halfway stage of the Maybank Championship in Malaysia on Friday.
The duo hold a marginal advantage over Scotland’s Marc Warren, Japan’s Yuta Ikeda and English duo Lee Westwood and Chris Paisley, who are all tied on third.
Thai sensation Phachara, 18, said he learnt a lot from the match-play style tournament.
“My partner Hideto Tanihara taught me a lot and he calmed me down because I was very nervous,” Phachara, who shot seven birdies, told reporters.
“It has been a long time since I’ve been bogey-free. I putted very well because I didn’t hit the ball close to the hole.”
Earlier, Westwood finished with a 62 after an astonishing 11 birdies at the Saujana Golf and Country Club, where he won the Malaysian Open in 1997.
“It’s nice to be in contention and to know this golf course well,” Westwood, 44 said.
Say hello to the calmest 18-year old in golf.
— Maybank Championship (@maybankchampio1) February 2, 2018
A competitive field saw a host of golfers remain only two shots off Phachara and Bertasio in tied-seventh, including last year’s runner-up David Lipsky of the United States.
Top-ranked Henrik Stenson of Sweden also made the cut after an improved performance for a 67 to lurk six shots from the joint leaders.
Perhaps the biggest name to miss the cut was China’s Li Haotong, who finished in an abysmal tied-125th.
There were high hopes that Li would stamp his mark on this tournament after his eye-catching victory at the Dubai Desert Classic last week, where he upstaged four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy.
Leading scores after the second round of the Maybank Championship Malaysia (Par 72):
133 – Phachara Khongwatmai (THA) 68-65, Nino Bertasio (ITA) 68-65
134 – Lee Westwood (ENG) 72-62, Yuta Ikeda (JPN) 70-64, Marc Warren (SCO) 68-66, Chris Paisley (ENG) 65-69
135- Stephen Gallacher (SCO) 70-65, Daisuke Kataoka (JPN) 68-67, Hideto Tanihara (JPN) 71-64, Dylan Frittelli (RSA) 69-66, David Lipsky (USA) 67-68, Maximilian Kieffer (GER) 69-66, Jorge Kampillo (ESP) 69-66
136 – Andrew Dodt (AUS) 71-65, David Horsey (ENG) 66-70, Ryan Fox (NZL) 68-68, Danthai Boonma (THA) 70-66, Robert Karlsson (SWE) 68-68, Thomas Detry (BEL) 68-68, Thomas Bjorn (DEN) 68-68, Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 69-67, Prayad Marksaeng (THA) 71-65, Soren Kjeldsen (DEN) 69-67, Lee Soo-Min (KOR) 67-69
Golf superstar Rory McIlroy says a heart defect will not prevent him from challenging again to be world number one and add to his tally of four majors.
The 28-year-old Northern Irishman, who begins his year in Abu Dhabi next week ranked 11 in the world, told The Daily Telegraph he doesn’t lose too much sleep over it.
“I have a flat T-wave and I’ll have to get an echo (cardiogram) on my heart every six months and an MRI scan every year,” he said.
“I suffered a really bad viral infection in China 18 months ago and they told me that’s the reason that I have this thickening of my left ventricle and there’s a bit of scar tissue.
“For now, I just need to stay on top of it and have to stay fit. Hey, I was planning on doing that anyway.”
McIlroy, whose marriage last year to Erica was a high point while on the course he failed to win a tournament, accepts he has to regain his brio on the circuit.
“I won four majors from 2011 to 2014 and everyone was saying ‘that’s Tiger pace’,” said McIlroy.
“I realise everyone knows I haven’t won one in the last three years and that is a worry, yeah.
“I need to get back on that track and this year my goals are to add to my major tally and get back to world number one, winning more times than anyone else.
“It’s simple, there are no excuses with my game or my private life. I’ve had the best time of my life in the last few months,” added McIlroy, who spent his honeymoon with Erica on a road trip through Italy.
McIlroy, who recently bought South African star Ernie Els’s house in Florida, believes he has the mental strength now to take on all comers and not to freeze.
“I still feel that on my day, if I’m on my roll, and especially if I’m playing with them…I just crave to be in that position again.
“That hasn’t always been the case with me. The first three years with my career I struggled when it came to that head-to-head stuff down the stretch, with the big guys, but now I actually think it’s when I am at my best.”