Woods caps his comeback with Tour Championship victory
He's back! Tiger Woods crowned his first victory in five years to the chants and cheers of an adoring crowd at East Lake as he claimed the Tour Championship by two shots on Sunday.
The three-time Champion Golfer of the Year, for whom golf used to come as easily as any player we have ever seen, has walked the toughest road back to the top.
After the back surgeries and dropping out of the world’s top 1000, it was easy to wonder whether Woods would ever win PGA title number 80, five years, one month and 19 days after his last success.
My congratulations to @TigerWoods on winning the @playofffinale! I am very happy for him and extremely proud of him. Tiger has worked very hard to get to this place, and has played very well all season. @PGATOUR— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) 23 September 2018
Win it he did though and for the 42-year-old, who has threatened to do this all season, there was some pleasure to be taken from the hard-fought nature of this success.
“It was a grind out there,’’ Woods said. “I loved every bit of it. The fight and the grind and the tough conditions, I just had to suck it up and hit shots, and I loved every bit of it.
“I was pretty emotional when Rory [playing partner, McIlroy] was tapping out, he was finishing out.
“I looked around, and the tournament was over because I’d already put the bunker shot on the green, and I’d won 80. 80 is a big number. I’ve been sitting on 79 for about five years now, and to get 80 is a pretty damned good feeling.’’
From his 65 in the first round, Woods led throughout in Atlanta, entering the final day with a three-shot advantage over Justin Rose and McIlroy.
A birdie at the first settled any nerves, and while his two future Ryder Cup opponents faded, Billy Horschel mounted a charge with a 66 to take the clubhouse lead at nine under.
There were a couple of nervy moments, particularly after a bogey at 16, but in truth Woods was always in control.
“The game plan was to shoot under par, and I birdied the first hole right out of the gate,’’ he said. “Now, play the next 17 in even par, and we’re good to go. I was just grinding out there, and I was telling [caddie] Joey [LaCava], it felt like more of a grind today because of where I kept leaving myself.
“I had downhill putts virtually every single hole. The only three putts I made today at 1 and 4, the par putt, and 13 - those were all uphill. It seemed like I was downhill, down grain every single hole, and I was putting very defensively and conservatively all day.’’
Woods’ return to the top step of the leaderboard is one of sports stories of the year coming after two years where he barely played due to chronic back pain.
The resurgence has been gradual on a more restricted schedule, but it had become increasingly apparent that it was a matter of when, not if, the elusive victory would come.
Woods readily admits that there were moments when he questioned whether he would ever be able to compete at the highest level again.
“I appreciate it a little bit more than I did because I don't take it for granted that I'm going to have another decade, two decades in my future of playing golf at this level,” Woods said.
“It means a lot more to me now in that sense because I didn't know if I'd ever be out here playing again, doing this again.”
For those who questioned it, there is no doubt now that he is back and ready to compete with the very best.
Amid all the euphoria over Woods’ success, it was also a special day for Rose, the 1998 Silver Medal winner.
While a final-day 73 cost him a chance at overall victory, a birdie on the 18th was enough for Rose to pip Woods to the FedEx Cup, becoming the first Englishman to become the overall season-long PGA Tour champion.
It caps a brilliant season for Rose, who tied for second at The Open at Carnoustie and has finished the season on a tear.
Like Woods, he will now head to France and Le Golf National as Europe look to regain the Ryder Cup.
LEWIS SHINES IN PORTUGAL
Meanwhile in the Portugal Masters, another Silver Medal-winner Tom Lewis won only his second-ever European Tour event seven years on from winning in Vilamoura.
The 27-year-old shot a 66 on the final day to finish 22 under par, three shots clear of closest rivals Lucas Herbert, of Australia, and compatriot Eddie Pepperell.
This victory comes seven years after Lewis burst onto the scene in 2011, when he also won in Portugal and took the Silver Medal at Royal St George’s when he finished 30th.