2018 Valspar leaderboard, grades: Tiger Woods thrills but falls just short of win

Paul Casey won the 2018 Valspar Championship with a 6-under 65 in the final round to finish at 10 under on the week. He narrowly beat Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed by one stroke each despite Woods' crazy 44-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole on Sunday that put him in contention for his first PGA Tour victory since 2013.

Casey played the last 15 holes in 6 under to grab his first victory since the 2009 Shell Houston Open. He had to wait until the last minute for confirmation, though. Woods, who shot 1-under 70 missed a 38-foot birdie on the 72nd hole, and Casey took the trophy after finishing up an hour before Woods. It might not have been the outcome most people watching and attending were hoping to see, but Casey was certainly emotional and delighted by the victory.

"[Tiger] made it look easy for such a long time, and it's not," Casey told Steve Sands of NBC. "I've won a few times in Europe, but to take this on and get my second victory on the PGA Tour, it's emotional. I've worked so hard. I'm so happy for it."

The runner-up finish was Woods' best in nearly five years.

A leaky putter on the final day resulted in Tiger finishing No. 58 in strokes gained putting in Round 4 (out of 78). And that was with that 44-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole. After making birdie at the very first hole, Woods made bogey at the par-3 4th and parred everything else until that bonkers 17th.

Still, the week was a wild success for Woods, who who shot his two best scores of the season and easily had his best finish (he'd previously finished 12th at the Honda Classic). His game looks astonishingly good four tournaments into his comeback with the Arnold Palmer Invitational next week and the Masters on deck in three weeks.

"I felt very comfortable actually," Woods told NBC. "I didn't feel that sharp with my iron game [on Sunday]. I played very conservatively into the greens because I just wasn't as sharp as I was yesterday. [I was] trying to hopefully get a couple good numbers and fire at a few flags. One of those days where I kept getting a half club."

Woods finished 52nd in the field in proximity to the hole on Sunday and gave himself just two looks at birdie under 15 feet. That's not a great recipe for closing out a tournament, especially when somebody as good as Casey drops a 65.

"I've gotten a little bit better than what I was a couple weeks ago at Honda," said Woods. "I keep getting just a little bit better and a little bit sharper. Today wasn't quite as sharp as I would have liked to have had it, but I had a good shot at winning this golf tournament. Couple putts here and there, could have been a different story."

The story was fascinating as it was. Casey's first win in nearly a decade. Woods vying for PGA Tour victory No. 80. A non-major in the middle of March turned into a golf thrill ride. The only shame is that we have so much time until the Masters. Grades for both: A+

Patrick Reed (T2): What a day for golfers wearing red and black on Sunday. I'm still not totally sure Reed didn't think the masses were there to watch him try and burn down this course (which he nearly did). Alas, a two-putt on the final hole would have gotten him into a playoff, and he didn't even come close. The T2 is easily his best finish of the year and his first top 10 of the 2017-18 PGA Tour season. Grade: A

Sergio Garcia: (4th): Garcia shot a round-of-the-week 65 on Sunday and looked like he was going to legitimately backdoor his way into a playoff or better for much of the day. Garcia finished first in the field in strokes gained tee to green and 71st in putting (of the 78 players who made the cut). So, you know, a traditional Sergio experience. A win for him on Sunday would have been a true stunner. Regardless, his title defense at Augusta National is shaping up nicely with top 10s at both the WGC-Mexico Championship and this event. Grade: A

Rory McIlroy (MC): McIlroy has now played 13 rounds on the PGA Tour this year, and only three of those have been in the 60s. He shot 74-73 this week, which marks his fifth and sixth consecutive rounds over par on the year. Granted, those have come at difficult courses, but this isn't William McGirt we're talking about. It's Rory McIlroy. The Ulsterman conceded there are a variety of issues he needs to work out before next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational and (maybe especially) next month's Masters.

"I mean it's early in the season," said McIlroy. "It's a long year. I've shown signs of good play this year already, and I just need to see a couple of good scores. I think that will maybe give me a little boost going forward. So it's nice that I'm playing again next week [at the Arnold Palmer Invitational] and have a chance to try and do that."

McIlroy did not crack the top 100 in strokes gained putting on either of the day days he played at Innisbrook. Grade: F

Jordan Spieth (MC): Things weren't much better for Spieth, who missed the 19th cut of his career (two more than Tiger Woods, by the way). His struggle early in the season has also been with the putter, but he knows when it turns, it's going to turn.

"These past two weeks I took a step back, unfortunately, is the feeling right now," said Spieth. "I don't want it to be streaky, I'd rather it be consistent. The good news is my confidence can flip into a pretty elite level once that kind of clicks, and I've just been searching for that. That's all it is. Didn't really have any practice last week. I wasn't able to nail in what I had at Riviera unless I putted even worse. There's only so much you can do indoors, 37 and rain everyday. Not that that is much of an excuse because we get that a lot of years."

This was his fifth tournament in seven tries with a negative strokes gained putting number.  Grade: F

For highlights and additional analysis of Sunday's final round, check out the application below.

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CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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