Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia ended a dramatic weekend of golf in a place that made each comfortable.
Garcia finished as the victim.
Woods, as usual, was the winner.
Protagonists need antagonists and like Tweety needed Sylvester and Bugs Bunny needed Yosemite Sam, on his weekend at The Players, the cartoonish Garcia was a tailor-made villain for Woods.
The kind that comes so close to winning only to end up as roadkill.
And though Woods wasn’t going there, Garcia’s petulant assaults on his character – calling him “not the nicest guy on Tour” – may have even given the World No. 1 the boost he needed to win on a course he doesn’t particularly enjoy for the first time in 12 years.
“I thought I handled the situation well and really played well today,” Woods deflected when asked about Garcia.
Winners, of course, can afford to take the high road.
Garcia, on the other hand, was unrepentant when asked if there was anything he’d do differently after accusing Woods of gamesmanship in Saturday’s third round.
“No, no,” he said.
“It sounds like I’m the bad guy here.
“I was the victim.
“I don’t have any regrets of anything.”
Well, that may not strictly be true.
The Spaniard, once full of life and promise but lately a whiny downer convinced the golfing gods conspired against him, reached the signature 17th island green tied for the lead with Woods at 13-under par.
And then it was if a giant cartoon anvil with “ACME” written on it landed on his head.
Garcia took on that back right pin on the Par 3 that everyone tells you not to and, predictably, found a watery grave.
The fact that so many cheered was confirmation of whom the people thought was the bad guy.
For good measure, maybe to make sure his title chances really drowned, Garcia took out another ball and hit the same shot with the same pitching wedge.
Cue: ACME anvil.
If they make "Tin Cup II", the producers will know who to cast.
When the carnage was over, it added up to a quadruple bogey.
On 18, Garcia emptied out that particular sleeve of balls with another water ball, leading to a double bogey.
It was the sort of finish that could haunt a player. For a long time. Garcia said he wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.
“It happens,” he said later with a shrug.
Interestingly, it doesn’t happen to Woods.
He survived his own cartoonish blunder on the 14th hole – a tee shot that really has his number – hooking into the water and then taking a double bogey.
His two-shot lead gone, Woods pulled a 9-iron approach into the next green and was so short-sided, bogey seemed inevitable.
But Woods made the clutch putt from eight feet to save par. He’d later call it “the shot that turned the tide.”
On the next, a poor tee shot was rescued by an excellent bunker shot leading to a tap-in birdie, and then two pars to finish.
Woods did what he usually does and hollered back for the chasing pack to come get him.
And as usual they weren’t up for the challenge.
Swedish rookie David Lingmerth was gallant but three-putted the last when he needed birdie to force a playoff.
Jeff Maggert’s 49-year-old nerves let him down on 17 where he, too, found the water (to finish just two shots behind Woods).
The list goes on.
Only Woods and Maggert of the last 15 players to go out on Sunday finished under par.
It all augurs well for Woods, who has reached four wins faster this year than in any season of his career.
This win – in his 300th start on the PGA Tour (he won, too, in his 100th and 200th) – was probably the most impressive of the year because it came at a tournament in which he hasn’t historically done well.
And he did it differently, too. While at Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill Woods relied on a hot putter, he won here despite taking 114 putts. Thirty-five players took fewer putts.
“Sometimes it’s a little harder than others,” he said of his wins.
“This is a very tricky golf course with a lot of things that can go wrong coming down the stretch.
“I’m not the only one who’s struggled with it.
“But I’ve been hitting it really well. I’ve played pretty good this entire year. It’s not like my game was off. For some reason this week I felt really comfortable with what I was doing.”
He felt comfortable enough, too, to take a shot at those who doubted him during his darkest years, post-scandal.
“Am I surprised?” he repeated when asked about the success he’s having.
“No. I know a lot of people in this room thought I was done.
“But I’m not.”
What’s left, of course, is to prove that on the grandest stage.
The final round of the US Open in June – at venerable Merion – will be played five years to the day since Woods won his last major.
Despite the fact they don’t get along, he should be hoping he gets paired with Garcia in Pennsylvania.
In the 13 tournaments they’ve played together in during their PGA Tour careers, Woods has now won nine.