Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion and once a top-10 player in the world and Ryder Cup performer, now has the momentum and inner belief to return to that echelon.
But this ultimately was all about Simpson, who had missed the cut in four of his previous eight appearances at the TPC Sawgrass and had gone 107 starts on the PGA Tour since his most recent victory in Las Vegas toward the end of 2013. "I didn't play particularly well in the first couple days, but I turned it around this weekend and I got it rolling", Woods said.
Playing alongside Spieth, it was clear to see that Tiger was feeling good to open his day, blasting a 313-yard drive down the left side of the fairway.
Woods' run came to an end when he bogeyed the Par-4 at the 14th hole. He stood at -9 for the tournament just 12 holes later before ending at -8 after three rounds thanks to a scintillating 65.
Simpson's seven-stroke lead after 54 holes was more than useful but the 32-year-old is due vast credit for his nerveless approach to Sunday. Simpson has had ups and downs in his career and he set out to win this week.
So did Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker and Danny Lee. It's just his seventh top-12 finish ever at this tournament.
By the time the 42 year old stood on the 13th tee, having picked up six shots with some dazzling artistry and bewitching putting, the deficit had shrunk to just four.
After six straight pars to open his final round, Simpson finally got something going, making birdie at the 7th to get to 20-under for the tournament, increasing his lead back to six.
Tesori, the caddie for The Players Championship victor Webb Simpson, grew up down the road from Sawgrass and has played the course more times than anyone in the field. Notes: Tiger Woods is back at the TPC Sawgrass for the first time in three years. On Saturday, he shot 30 on the front. When Woods is contending, golf is must-see television, and the buzz he sends throughout the sports world even winds its way to his playing competitors. By the time Woods teed off, he had dropped to a tie for 17th.
The only way anyone other than Simpson could win, was if Simpson started making bogeys and doubles, which he refused to do.
A par at the final hole gave Tiger a final-round 69, which he says he was disappointed with after hitting the ball so well.
For now, we'll celebrate a tie for 11th as if it puts him on the cusp of a 15th major title.
"There's no way I would have predicted I would be at this point the beginning of the year", he said.
And so he did, shooting a 3-under-par 69 to finish in a six-way tie for 11th place, seven shots behind victor Webb Simpson.
On Sunday, he frequently had to make putts for pars.
Every green used to be a horror chamber for Simpson, until Paul Tesori, who has become Simpson's best friend as well as his caddie (and fellow Christian), talked him into trying something different. Simpson's approach to the 18th bounded across the green and into the water.
It is fair to assume Webb Simpson did not spend much time looking in his rear-view mirror.
Leading from halfway is supposed to be a hard art but it is a measure of how impressive the 32 year old American played over the weekend that Simpson made it look straightforward.