Tiger Woods finishes tied for fourth at Quicken Loans National

Tiger Woods finishes tied for fourth at Quicken Loans National

POTOMAC, Md. — You cannot play defense in golf, so in the end, there is nothing Tiger Woods could do about Francesco Molinari on Sunday at the Quicken Loans National.

The Italian (who has twice gone up against Woods in Ryder Cup singles) cruised to his first PGA Tour victory and eighth worldwide with a sizzling final round of 62 in searing conditions at TPC Potomac.

Woods, meanwhile, was left to fight for as high of a finish as he could, grinding as much as possible toward the top of the leaderboard in an effort to earn world ranking points, FedEx Cup points and momentum.

Call it mixed results. Woods shot a final-round 66 to earn a tie for fourth, making six birdies and two bogeys and finishing 10 shots behind Molinari, who won by 8 strokes.

But Woods was just two shots out of second, a crucial difference as it relates to some of his other goals this year.

“Well, I think the last two days playing [holes] 13, 14 the way I did … I bogeyed 13 twice and then didn’t birdie 14 either day, and I was right there next to the green,” he said. “Those are things that I can’t afford to do and expect to win a golf tournament.”

As is the case for every player who doesn’t win a golf tournament, there are typically numerous “what-ifs.” But Woods pointed out a glaring one: his play on two of the easier holes on the course over the weekend. The 13th was a 370-yard par-4. Woods hit irons off the tee both days and missed the fairway, leading to bogey.

The 14th is a drivable par-4, and Woods hit the green both days, only to see the ball bound over. He missed a 7-footer on Saturday and a 3-footer on Sunday.

“I saw that I was only four back when I made the turn, and so I thought that maybe if I shot 30, maybe 29, that would be enough,” he said. “Evidently, I would have to shoot 24 on the back nine. What Francesco did is awesome. But I thought I had a legit chance starting that back nine if I posted a number.”

The good news: Woods tied Molinari for the most birdies during the tournament with 21. The bad news: Woods was last in the field in putting from inside 10 feet, making 60 of 73.

That is somewhat misleading, as fewer than half of the 74 players who made the cut had more opportunities at that range than he did. But it still points to some crucial misses, including 3 on Sunday.

And yet, with a new putter in the bag this week, Woods felt good about the improvement he made on the greens.

On Sunday, he needed just 27 putts and made 125 feet worth, the most of the week. For the tournament, he finished seventh in strokes gained putting.

“Even my bad putts had the ‘go in’ look — that’s something that I haven’t had,” he said. “When I was struggling there for a little bit, and I couldn’t even cheer for my good ones. So I’m seeing the lines again, I’m rolling the ball on my line, I’ve got the speed, and I really like the swing of this putter. I keep saying that, but it makes a big difference.”

As it was, Woods posted his second-best finish of the year, though he has been within five strokes of the winner just once: when he was second at the Valspar Championship in March.

In 11 tournaments, he has three top-5s and five top-12 finishes. Starting the week at 82nd in the world, Woods is projected to move up to 67th, the highest he has been since early 2015.

It means he likely needs a top-10 finish, probably around seventh, in his next start at Carnoustie if he is to qualify for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational next month.

That is the site of Woods’ last victory in 2013 and where he has won eight times. The tournament is leaving the venue after this year. To get there, Woods will need a good week at Carnoustie, one of the toughest Open venues and where he tied for seventh in 1999 and tied for 12th in 2007.

It also is where Woods, as a 19-year-old amateur, got his first taste of links golf in 1995 when he played the Scottish Open.