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.