PALM HARBOR — The massive crowds that were the norm all week at the Valspar Championship showed up one last time Sunday to get a glimpse of Tiger Woods. He was one shot out of the lead to start the day at Innisbrook, and fans were hoping for a vintage charge.
Paul Casey teed off 70 minutes before Woods and trailed leader Corey Conners by five shots. He was just another player in the field hoping to shoot a low score and move on to the next tournament.
In relative peace and quiet, Casey shot 6-under 65 and posted a total of 10-under 274. He was in the locker room watching the tournament on television when Woods and playing partner Brandt Snedeker reached the 14th hole.
Then came Casey's agonizing wait to see if any player would pass him. Patrick Reed got to 10 under with a birdie on the 14th hole. But he bogeyed the 18th to drop to 9 under. Then Woods dropped a 44-foot bomb for birdie on the 17th hole to get to 9 under.
By then Casey was back out on the course, in case Woods tied him. But Woods' 37-foot birdie putt on the 18th fell 2 feet short. Casey won his first tournament in nine years and just his second on the PGA Tour. He pocketed $1.170 million.
Woods (70) and Reed (68) finished tied for second. Sergio Garcia, who finished with 6-under 65, was fourth at 8 under.
Casey said the wait to see if his score would hold up was agonizing.
"I have not been in that position many times before," the Weybridge, England, native said. "I expected guys to continue to make birdies. When I finished, I expected someone to get to 11 (under). Sitting in the locker room watching was rubbish. Now I know what my family goes through."
One of the guys Casey, and just about everyone else, thought would make a move was Woods. Things started well for him when he birdied the first hole to move to 9 under. But a bogey on the par-3 fourth hole dropped him to 8.
He stayed there until the 17th hole. Woods had few realistic birdie chances and was forced to settle for pars.
"I just wasn't as sharp as I wanted to be with my iron game," Woods said. "It was just one of those days where it was a half-club this way or that way. I was just grinding.
"I was close. I had a chance."
Woods did thrill the crowd when he made his birdie putt on the 17th. At that time, Reed was on his way to three-putting the 18th green from 45 feet to fall back to 9 under.
"I was very thankful I made that putt on 17," Woods said. "Kept me from having to hole it from the fairway on 18."
Woods knew if he birdied the final hole, he would get into a playoff. He chose an iron off the tee and left himself 184 yards away. His 7 iron landed 44 feet short. His birdie attempt didn't quite make it up the hill and ended 2 feet short.
"If I'm in the fairway, I've got a shot at it," Woods said. "Unfortunately, I wasn't close enough (for birdie)."
Casey said Woods' birdie putt was about a 1 in 20 shot, but he gave Woods 50-50 odds. When it didn't go in, he made his way to the scoring area behind the 18th green. He had a brief meeting with Woods, who congratulated him for winning.
"That's the only time that he's congratulated me right after a victory, so that's something special," Casey said. "Usually it's the other way around."
Casey, 40, got his only other tour win at the 2009 Houston Open. His only blemish Sunday was a bogey on the third hole. The tournament changed when he birdied the 11th, 12th and 13th holes to get to 10 under. From there, he parred out.
"The pressure wasn't on me," Casey said. "I teed off an hour-plus ahead of the leaders, so I was just cruising around. Nobody is watching us. Until 12 onwards, it was serious stuff. Until that point, it was a very nice Sunday afternoon."
Casey said he was also playing with a heavy heart. His best friend's wife died of cancer March 3.
"I didn't think about it too much (Sunday)," Casey said. "It probably wasn't the right thing to think about it on the course. But afterwards it's very emotional."
And so is the win.
Casey said he thought Woods would win. He earned the victory while few were watching.
"It's been too long," Casey said. "It's very satisfying, probably more satisfying on a week where Tiger played some good golf. Got to see some amazing stuff and hear the roars. I loved everything about it."
Contact Rodney Page at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @rodneyhometeam.