Tiger drains monster birdie putt in final round thriller

It was the Tiger Woods of old at the Valspar Championship over the weekend, and an incredible birdie putt got him agonisingly close to his first title in five years.

Tiger drains monster birdie putt in final round thriller

Tiger drains monster birdie putt in final round thriller

The gathering wave of Tiger-mania sweeping toward next month's Masters will reach new heights at the Bay Hill Invitational this week, after his near miss in Florida.

It was Englishman Paul Casey, not Woods, who ended his long title drought at the Innisbrook Resort on Sunday.

But that did little to dampen growing excitement around Woods, who finished one shot behind in a tie for second with Patrick Reed.

Television ratings figures from the tournament reflected Woods's astonishing pulling power, perhaps even greater than in his pomp, as a more vulnerable 42-year-old continue his comeback from his fourth back surgery.

American network NBC's audience for the third round, when Woods ensured he was in contention, were 181 per cent up on last year, making it the highest rating third round broadcast anywhere in the past 12 years.

Tiger is back with a bang. Image: Getty

Now an increasingly confident Woods heads to Bay Hill and the tournament once hosted by the late Arnold Palmer, which he has won eight times, including his last start there five years ago.

And everything points toward a crescendo of excitement when he bids for a fifth Masters green jacket - a first since 2005 - at Augusta National from April 5-8.

The winner of 14 major titles said he felt calm on Sunday as he chased a first win in almost five years, in just his fourth official event back from a spinal fusion.

But he wasn't quite good enough to catch a hot Casey, who shot a closing six-under par 65 to finish at 10 under then saw Woods (70) and Reed (68) fall just short of matching him.

Casey needed just 21 putts while Woods struggled to get his iron approach shots close and his putter was largely cold, except for a curling 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th which raised hopes of a playoff before he left his birdie putt short on the last.

"Today wasn't quite as sharp as I would like to have had it but I had a good chance at winning this tournament," Woods said.

"A couple of putts here and there and it could have been a different story."

For 40-year-old Casey, who had won 17 times around the world, it was only his second US tour victory after the Shell Houston Open in April 2009 and his first win anywhere since the European tour's 2014 KLM Open.

"I actually thought he (Woods) was going to win today before the round started," world No.17 Casey said.

"I thought it was just teed up beautifully for him. I said a couple times, 'If I don't win this thing, I actually want Tiger to win it'.

"The guy (Woods) has got more victories than all of us put together.

Tiger came up just short. Image: Getty

"He made it look easy for such a long time and it's not.

"I won a few times in Europe (13) but to get my second victory on the PGA Tour, it's emotional. I've worked hard for it.

"I lost a friend last Saturday, played with a heavy heart.

"Maybe that was the difference."

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (65) finished fourth at eight under while Australia's 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott (72) was tied 16th at three under.

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