3 takeaways from Tiger's thrilling runner-up finish at Valspar
PALM HARBOR, FL - MARCH 11: Tiger Woods plays his shot from the 15th tee during the final round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort Copperhead Course on March 11, 2018 in Palm Harbor, Florida.

The task was next to impossible, and Tiger Woods damn near pulled it off.

Up against the Snake Pit on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook - a stretch of holes that routinely chews up and spits out the best - Woods needed two birdies in two holes to force a playoff and continue his quest for an 80th tour win of his illustrious career.

He came up a couple feet short, failing to convert the second of two improbable birdies and ultimately conceding the victory to Paul Casey - who deserves the utmost credit for putting together a tidy 65 and snapping a lengthy drought of his own.

Still, even in defeat, the stage belonged to Tiger. His impressive efforts over the last four days nearly blew the top off what's already been a wildly entertaining season on tour, and by the looks of things, it will only get better with the biggest name in the sport officially back on the map.

Here's three takeaways from the first true taste of Tigermania the golf scene has been craving for a long time.

This time, it's real

During Woods' previous comeback attempts, the cause for concern among naysayers was never a lack of will or desire to win, rather that the physical toll of multiple surgeries is too much to overcome. He's in his 40s now; over the hill, right?


Months after fusion surgery on his back, Tiger showed no signs of discomfort. He never grimaced, dropped to his knees, or appeared stiff even once at Innisbrook, and considering he recorded the fastest swing speed recorded on tour this season during Saturday's round - a whopping 129.2 miles per hour - it's safe to say he's free of any restrictions with a club in his hand.

Apart from one missed cut this season (Genesis Open), Tiger's gradually progressed in each of his results with finishes of T-23, 12th, and now T-2. It's time to cast aside the doubt.

Room to improve

(Photo Courtesy: Getty Images)

As encouraging as his four-day total of 275 was, there's still plenty of room to grow. After his 67 on Saturday featured five birdies, Tiger couldn't build off that momentum and was eventually let down by the flat stick for the first time in the tournament Sunday.

Even his misses from Thursday to Saturday had good pace, but on Sunday he left himself work on multiple par saves. It's encouraging he cleaned most of them up, but it made the difference between a runner-up finish and a victory.

Elsewhere, Woods needs to re-gain confidence in his driver, and he lamented the consistency of his irons Sunday.

"I was close," Woods said, per ESPN's Bob Harig. "I had a chance today. Unfortunately I just didn't feel quite as sharp as I needed to with my irons, played a little conservative because of it."

People most certainly care

If you think golf isn't a better game with Tiger in the mix, consider that coverage of Woods' 18 holes Saturday was the highest-rated third-round broadcast on any network in nearly 12 years.

As for that vintage, near magic putt on 17, just look at the buzz it generated:

Tiger's Copperhead conquest fell just shy of completion, but he showed the world he still has what it takes to compete at the highest level. With Bay Hill around the corner - a track Tiger has won eight times - and Augusta to follow shortly after, Woods' performance at Valspar could very well be a sign of things to come.

3 takeaways from Tiger's thrilling runner-up finish at Valspar
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Tiger sounds off after another strong showing at Arnold Palmer Invitational
It was a great two weeks of being in contention again. I feel like I'm getting a little better. Great playing by Rory today to win at the King's place. Arnie would have been proud of golf today and the charges!!!
McIlroy holes out with long birdie putt on 18
Watch out world, @McIlroyRory is BACK!
DeChambeau drops eagle on 16th hole
Perfect speed. πŸ¦…πŸ’ͺ @B_DeChambeau is just one-shot back! #QuickHits
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🐦 THREE 🐦 STRAIGHT 🐦 @McIlroyRory can't miss! #QuickHits
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😱😱 @HenrikStenson's birdie to tie the lead somehow lips out. #QuickHits
McIlroy cruising with 5th birdie in 9 holes πŸ”₯
Five 🐦 on his last nine holes. McIlroy is on πŸ”₯πŸ”₯πŸ”₯ #QuickHits
McIlroy takes outright lead with birdie on 13
Rory is ROLLING. @McIlroyRory takes the outright lead at 14 under. #QuickHits
Tiger moves to within 1 shot of lead with birdie on 13
A vintage Sunday charge. @TigerWoods is 3 under thru four holes on the back nine. #QuickHits
Tiger pars 11th with around-the-hole putt
πŸŒ€πŸ˜²πŸŒ€ All the way around and in. #QuickHits
Rory making Sunday charge with 2nd straight birdie
The roars are getting louder for Rory after his second-straight birdie. πŸ‘€ #QuickHits
Tiger stuffs approach from 173 yards out to set up birdie
54 of 54 so far this week inside 9 feet. @TigerWoods has this 6 footer for 🐦 coming up. #QuickHits
Tiger slams putt off flag stick, reacts with laughter
Hit a house. That'll do. #QuickHits
Tiger takes vicious hack with big stick
Anyone catch the recoil speed on this one?
DeChambeau makes long birdie putt from fringe
Hello co-leader, @B_DeChambeau. πŸ‘‹ #QuickHits
Patrick Reed stuffs approach
Tiger opens final round with par
Tiger is off and running on Sunday. #QuickHits
Rose birdies back-to-back holes
Justin Rose is feeling it down the stretch. Two-straight birdies and just three back @APInv. 🌹 #QuickHits
Fowler clears bunker, puts ball within feet of hole from 186 yards out
Aggressive shot...can it clear the bunker... Right on line for @RickieFowler. #QuickHits
Tiger records 4th birdie of day on hole 11
Tee shot: πŸ‘ Approach: 🎯 Putt: 🐦 #QuickHits