Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship at East Lake by two shots from Billy Horschel while Justin Rose won the $10 m FedEx Cup play-offs prize
Tiger Woods wins a golf tournament. Half a dozen words once uttered with seamless regularity had vanished from golf’s jargon amid years of personal, physical and professional commotion for arguably the finest player this athletic has ever seen. History was made on Sunday evening on the outskirts of Atlanta as Woods- by two shots- delivered PGA Tour victory number 80.
He was even cantering towards first place at the Tour Championship before a couple of late stumbles which ultimately demonstrated immaterial. Thousands of fans swarmed the final fairway as Timbers entered his victory march.
Pictures and numbers endorse the scale of Woods’s latest triumph which, while not his best, is surely his most significant. In May last year, images of a woefully dishevelled Woods were beamed across the world following an apprehend for driving under the influence. This marked a nadir amid recovery from a fourth back surgery which left onlookers to question whether Woods would ever play competitive golf again. The last laugh? Timbers had cause for hysterics with a par on the 18 th, which devoted him a 71, and 11 under par total at East Lake. Fears for his career, as candidly articulated by Woods himself, proved so woefully unfounded. Billy Horschel, with a fine 66, finished second, two shots behind.
Ten months ago, Woods was 1193 rd in the world rankings. Precisely 1877 days had passed between win numbers 79 and 80. Since his 2013 success at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, 118 different individuals had claimed PGA Tour trophies from a total of 239 events. In his darkest moments, Woods could not even sit at a dinner table.
One statistic, however, proved the most pertinent of all. Timbers had held 54 -hole leads of three shots or more 23 periods before his latest, beautiful Georgia Sunday. Every time, Woods had won. Starting from a position of three clear of Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy here, Woods eased towards a record of 24 out of 24. McIlroy, Rose, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Tommy Fleetwood- the best players in the world- had no answer to what ultimately become a dominant Woods showing. Parallels between what transpired at East Lake and Woods in his all-conquering prime were as legitimate as they were inevitable.
Woods once famously remarked” Honey, this is what we do” to his wife, Elin, amid disappointment that the golfer wasn’t in the mood to properly celebrate a tournament success. For so long, this was what he did. And yet, as 2018 developed in golfing context, it was plain Woods still had the professional tools to win again. He had close shaves for a 15 th major title at the Open and US PGA Championships. Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins has always been a more sizeable Woods goal than widely recognised and is now so tantalisingly within view.
Almost as striking as the facts of the case Woods won was the ease with which glory arose. He was unflappable, apparently unperturbed- and perhaps even inspired- by the scale of what lay in front of him.
A converted birdie putt from 10 ft on the 1st set the tone. McIlroy, playing alongside his one-time idol, and Rose couldn’t lay a glove on the champ. The scale of McIlroy’s stumble was especially curious; he played the front nine in 39, the round in 74, for a share of seventh.
Woods had brief difficulty on the 6th, where he could only advance a greenside chip around two feet from treacherous rough. He still saved par. He couldn’t do that at the 10 th, where a blocked drive meant no direct slant to the green. Even that mattered little as Rose, then his closest challenger, simultaneously dropped a shot at the 11 th.
Woods’s birdie at the 13 th meant a five-shot lead. He couldn’t lose from there; and duly didn’t despite bogeys at the 15 th and 16 th.
Galleries, stretching to 15 deep in places, roared and hollered their delight. The key element to Woods as such a prominent figure again relates to what it means for him but there is a broader, serious benefit to his sport. It was Woods who brought, and continues to bring, golf to the masses. And unlike earlier in his career, when Woods was always respected but rarely loved, fans audibly want him to win.
Rose, who birdied the 18 th to tie for fourth, has the reasonable succour for falling short at East Lake of the $10 m FedEx Cup bonus. How Rose, McIlroy and company cope with a resurgent Woods will demonstrate a fascinating subplot to the Ryder Cup, which starts on Friday.
The plane carrying the United States team to Paris for that event had a long evening wait in Atlanta as Woods completed duties that go along with a return to the rostrum. On that transatlantic route, it is hoped Woods reflected on another, sometimes tortuous journey. He has delivered one of sport’s greatest comeback tales.
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