Tiger Woods picked the right place to match Jack Nicklaus for career PGA Tour wins, and with a shot that even left Nicklaus amazed.
Two shots behind with three holes to play, his ball in an impossible spot behind the 16th green, Woods holed a flop shot from 50 feet away that turned bogey into birdie and sent him on his way to a stunning comeback Sunday in the Memorial.
Woods made three birdies on his last four holes for a 5-under 67, matching the lowest score of the final round, and he finished in style. He hit 9-iron to just inside 10 feet, and raised his putter — a pose that Nicklaus made famous for so many years — well before the ball tumbled into the cup.
It was his fifth win at Muirfield Village, and the 73rd of his PGA Tour career to match Nicklaus at No. 2 on the all-time list. Sam Snead won a record 82 times.
For Woods, it was a dramatic end to his worst three-tournament stretch as a pro, and it came with the U.S. Open looming.
He started the day four shots behind and wound up with a two-shot victory over Andres Romero (67) and Rory Sabbatini, who was in control of the tournament until he fell victim again to some old magic by Woods.
Woods said he didn’t miss a shot all day, though that flop shot stands out.
“The most unbelievable, gutsy shot I’ve ever seen,” Nicklaus said from the TV booth. “Look at the position he was in. If he’s short, the tournament is over. If he’s long, the tournament is over. He puts it in the hole.”
Nicklaus shared those thoughts with Woods as the winner walked off the 18th green. Woods smiled and said, “How about that, huh?”
Woods won for the second time this year, and moved to No. 4 in the world.
This was more impressive than his five-shot win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March, when he had a one-shot lead on a course where he could get by with par. The Memorial required much more work, especially when he had to go after birdies in the final hour. And that’s what he did.
He reached the par-5 15th into the wind in two shots to set up a two-putt birdie and get within one shot of Sabbatini. But just like that, it looked as if his chances were over when his tee shot bounded through the green and into a tough lie behind the green.
Woods is famous for chipping in at Memorial, particularly on the 14th hole. This was tougher by a mile, on fast greens with a shot that required close to perfection.
“I had to take a cut at it because the lie wasn’t as great,” he said. “It came out just perfect.”
With a full swing, the ball came out soft and began tracking toward the hole. It caught the right edge of the cup and dropped for a most improbable birdie, and Woods took two steps to the left and delivered a full uppercut not seen from him in some time.
Sabbatini didn’t need to see it. He was on the 15th green, scrambling for par, when Muirfield Village shook with the loudest roar of the day. The South African suddenly was tied for the lead, but not for long. He hit his tee shot into the right bunker on the 16th, the third-hardest hole Sunday that yielded only four birdies, and then blasted out to just inside 15 feet and took bogey to fall one behind.
That was all Woods needed.
From the middle of the 18th fairway, with Nicklaus watching from behind the green, Woods hit 9-iron to the perfect spot on the back of the green that it caught the slope and rolled to just inside 10 feet.
Nicklaus always waits on the 18th green for the winner, a tradition Woods knows better than anyone. This was even more special given the circumstances of his 73rd win.
“To do it here Jack watching on the last hole … he means a lot to all of us as players,” Woods said. “We all looked up to him, and he’s the greatest champion that’s ever lived.”
It was a hard-luck finish for Sabbatini, who has a long history with Woods for brazen comments that always backfire on him. He didn’t get many breaks, but kept his patience throughout the final round and still had a chance until he failed to take advantage of a big drive on the 17th, having to save par from a bunker.
Spencer Levin, who had a one-shot lead going into the final round, lost the lead to Sabbatini with a two-shot swing on the par-3 12th, then took double bogey on the next hole to fall from contention. He closed with a 75, the same score he shot in the final round at Phoenix when he had a six-shot lead.
That was nothing compared with Rickie Fowler, who played in the second-to-last group with Woods to help generate an enormous gallery. Fowler opened with a birdie, and his day fell apart after that. With a double bogey on the last hole, he closed with an 84.
The only consolation for Fowler was getting a front-row seat to a comeback remarkable even by Woods’ standards — especially the chip-in on the 16th. Fowler said a good shot would have been anywhere around 10 feet.
“It came out perfect, landed right on the crown of that ridge there, and the rest is history,” Fowler said. “I mean, he loves being in the moment, and that’s where he kind of gets down, focuses and hits those shots. It was fun to see.”
Woods finished at 9-under 279.
It was the second time this year Woods has won in his final tuneup before a major. He won Bay Hill, but then tied for 40th at the Masters. The U.S. Open at Olympic Club starts on June 14, and Woods would be quite happy to take the game he had Sunday to San Francisco.
“That was some good stuff out there,” Woods said. “I never really missed a shot today.”
The Memorial will be remembered for the one flop shot he made.