St. Louis — The ball rested on the edge of the cup, its logo peeking into the hole for what felt like forever.
Back in the day, that ball dropped for Tiger Woods.
On Sunday, it wouldn’t budge.
Yes, Woods finished second by two strokes to Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship to extend his drought without a major for at least eight more months. But after the scrambling, club-slamming, fist-pumping, electrifying show he put on over a round of 6-under 64 — his best closing round at a major — who can argue that golf isn’t more fun when Tiger’s in the mix?
“There’s nothing like it,” said Gary Woodland, who was in the twosome with the world’s best-known player. “The energy in that place was unbelievable.”
Even after the excruciating miss on No. 11 — one that looked a lot like his teetering, toppling chip on No. 16 at the Masters in 2005, except that one went in — Woods would not quit.
Shortly after 5 p.m., he had a 20-foot putt on the 16th green that would’ve tied him with Koepka, who was two holes behind but may as well have been playing on another course compared to the frenzy in front of him.
That putt slid just past.
And Woods’ last chance to apply real pressure vanished when he pushed his tee shot on the par-5 17th right of the creek running along the right side of the hole. Woods slammed the head of his driver to the ground, then swung it violently in frustration. He scrambled to make par, but by the time he reached the 18th fairway, he was three back of Koepka, who birdied 15 and 16 behind him.
On No. 18, Woods offered one final flourish. He drained his longest putt of the tournament, a 19-footer putt for birdie, and pumped his fist to celebrate.
Back in the day, that fist pump on the 18th green would’ve been to celebrate a win.
On this day, he was celebrating the grind — and the fact that he simply would not go away.
“I played hard,” he said after finishing the tournament at 14-under 266. “A bit of a struggle with my game today, but I hung in there.”
In many ways, this felt like old times for the 42-year-old — he of the multiple back surgeries who couldn’t swing a club 11 months ago, but has now contended on the back nine in consecutive majors, only to come up short, more agonizingly so this time than at Carnoustie three weeks ago.
Did he worry that a day like this might not ever come again?
“Oh, God, I didn’t even know if I was going to play golf again, so yeah,” he said.
That Woods was still in contention after his first nine holes Sunday was a testament to the sort of resilience he can show, not only over the long haul, but over the ups-and-downs of a pressure-packed round.
He had a two-way miss going with his long clubs on the driving range, then came out to the course and missed all seven fairways on the front nine. And yet, he scrambled. And needed a grand total of 10 putts over nine holes to make the turn at 3-under 32.
As the putts kept dropping, the roars got louder.
“The first real Tiger effect I’ve experienced, with that many people,” said defending champion Justin Thomas, who played two groups ahead and finished tied for sixth.
In the search for two shots that could’ve made the difference, one could point to the bad drive on 17, the agonizing miss on 11 or a 12-foot putt to save par that went halfway in but rimmed out on No. 14 and briefly halted his momentum.
Or go back to Thursday, when a bogey and double bogey on his first two holes nearly ended his tournament before it really began.
But he was there on Sunday, getting stronger as the day went on, and making it very difficult for Jim Furyk not to pick him for the Ryder Cup team in a few weeks.
Though he closes 2018 still without a major title since the 2008 U.S. Open, it’s hard, after a performance like this, to think the drought can last forever. His major finishes this year: 32nd at the Masters, cut in the U.S. Open, tied for sixth at the British, and, now, second at the PGA.
His ranking has jumped from 656 to start the year to 26 heading out of Bellerive.
Woods has never been someone who was satisfied with second. But he said he hadn’t felt this good at a tournament he didn’t win in a long time.
“I had to kind of figure this out on my own and it’s been really hard — a lot harder than people think,” he said. “And I’m just very pleased at what I’ve done so far … going from where I’ve come from, to now over the last year, it’s been pretty cool.”