Potomac, Md. — The roars are as deafening as ever. They used to mean a lot more.
Tiger Woods made his move at various points over the final three rounds on the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, each time making enough birdies to bring the Quicken Loans National to life with cheers and hope.
Every golfer on the course knew where he was because they could hear. No one got rattled, perhaps because Woods never made enough birdies or enough of a move.
One of the more telling moments came Saturday, when he finished the front nine with seven consecutive one-putt greens, including four straight birdies, and then a 25-foot birdie on No. 9 to head to the back nine just two shots off the lead.
“He made his fourth birdie in a row, and I couldn’t stop smiling,” said Joel Dahmen, who played with Woods for the first time and experienced everything he saw for so many years watching on TV as a kid. “It was the coolest thing ever on a golf course.”
One group ahead of them was Abraham Ancer, a 27-year-old Mexican making his 23rd start on the PGA Tour. Just being in the mix late Saturday afternoon was a new experience for Ancer, who had never finished 54 holes inside the top 10.
He knew this because there were only so much space on the hills for thousands of fans, and many of them went a hole ahead to stake out a position.
There was a time when Tiger roars were equally obvious and had a greater effect on the outcome. For so many years, the louder the cheers, the more something would go wrong with the players Woods was chasing. It felt even more hopeless for those trying to catch him.
He’s not there yet.
Something is going wrong, but it’s with Woods.
It can be as big as a driver that sails out-of-bounds and into someone’s backyard, as was the case at Bay Hill when he was one shot behind on the back nine Sunday. It can be as small as missing a pair of 10-foot putts that would have given him a share of the lead on Saturday at the TPC Potomac.
The mystique remains a work in progress.
Woods made 21 birdies in the final edition of the Quicken Loans National on a course that was tougher than he realized, just the way he likes it.
He had his work cut out for him Sunday, trailing by six shots going into the final round and making up only two shots on Francesco Molinari at the turn. He was in position to get closer until he missed a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 10, overcooked a simple chip at No. 11 that ran off the green onto the fringe, missed the fairway at No. 13 with an iron and then hit a 3-wood just over the green on the par-4 14th, chipping to 3 feet and missing the putt.
It probably wouldn’t have mattered, anyway.
Molinari had a stretch of golf that Woods could only salute. He figured a 30 on the back nine — or maybe a 29 — might be enough for him to win. That was before Molinari went 6 under on a five-hole stretch to start the back nine, building his lead to nine shots at one point.
“Evidently, I would have to shoot 24 on the back nine,” Woods said when he finished with a 66. “What Francesco is doing back there is just awesome. But I thought I had a legit chance starting that back nine if I posted a good number, but Francesco is just running away with it.”
Woods was still smiling at the trophy presentation for Molinari, jokingly asking Molinari what he ate for dinner the night before.
“I told him it was the pasta,” Molinari said. “Pasta is the secret.”
There’s more to that, and through 11 tournaments this year, Woods hasn’t quite figured it out.
“I’m not that far away from putting it together where I can win,” Woods said on Friday.
It sure looks that way.
Even when he was effectively out of the hunt going into the final round in four of his previous five tournaments, his shots were impressive. He just couldn’t buy a putt, and the change to a mallet-style putter – at least for one week – made a difference. Woods was making putts from the 15- to 30-foot range. His misses were good.