You have to close in tournament golf. Nobody knows that better than Woods. And if somehow he forgot that fact-of-Tour-life over most of the past half-decade, when he was largely in the game’s shadows, his visits to Tampa and Carnoustie and Bellerive this year slapped him upside his head, by way of reminder.
In those three events, he was chasing. Yes, you can win from behind and Woods has, a bunch. But the vintage Woods victory formula has been to own Saturday night, then pick his spots on Sunday, without ever relaxing.
Tiger Woods didn’t just win the Tour Championship on Sunday, though he did that, by two decisive shots. With $1.6 million in fresh earnings from his win, his career Tour earnings now exceed $115 million. The win was Woods’s first in over five years and his 80th on Tour. In the nebulous category of career Tour wins, Woods trails only Sam Snead, who is credited with 82, some of them funky. A year or two from now, maybe Woods will own that record, too.
But what Woods ultimately did on Sunday defies numerical analysis. Strokes gained: putting, take the rest of the day off. What Woods did on Sunday, what he did at East Lake, what he has done over the past 15 or so months, was to show the human capacity to change. To recover, to soldier on, to analyze. To improve. Physically, mentally and likely spiritually, too. What Tiger Woods has done should inspire any of us looking to do the same.
Not that this is a somber business for those of us in the peanut gallery. The spectators at East Lake were having a grand old time. One fan barked at the man. (Georgia Bulldogs country.) Another yelled, “Bet the house on you, Tiger!” (The DraftKings influence starting to show up.) Plus, this repurposed twist blues-club standby: “Bring it on home!”
Tiger Woods caps comeback with Tour Championship victory…
Woods shot a one-over par 71 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta to wrap up an emotional two-shot victory over Billy Horschel at the season-ending Tour Championship. It is his 80th victory on the PGA Tour, but his first since the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational.
Justin Rose, who finished in a tie for fourth place five shots behind Woods, managed enough points to wrap up the $10 million FedEx Cup, which the tour considers its biggest prize. But the day, the galleries and the TV ratings belonged to Tiger.
“I loved every bit of it,” Woods told NBC Sports moments after his round. “The fight and the grind and the tough conditions. Just have to suck it up and hit shots. Loved every bit of it.”
Woods entered the final round with a three-shot lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy, and he quickly stretched his lead over Rose to five. Woods birdied the opening hole, while Rose bogeyed the fifth.
Meanwhile, Woods kept chugging along. He bogeyed the 10th hole to break a run of eight straight pars after his opening birdie, but gained that shot back by rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 13.
McIlroy, playing in the final pairing with Woods, threw away his chance on the front nine. Coming off a birdie at the par-5 sixth, which left him 8-under for the tournament and one-over on the day, McIlroy hit a wild tee shot into the trees to the right of the seventh fairway and made double bogey after a penalty drop. He then hit another drive into the crowd on the right and went on to make bogey at No. 8.
As Woods finished off the win with a par at the 18th hole, he raised his arms in triumph as the crowds surrounding the green chanted “Ti-ger! Ti-ger! Ti-ger!”
Woods made things more interesting with back-to-back bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes, but he had built enough of a cushion for them to be footnotes to his ultimate triumph.
“It was a hard time not crying coming up the last hole,” Woods said. “But I said, ‘Hey, you know, I can still play this thing out of bounds, so let’s suck it up and let’s hit some shots here.’ But once I got the ball on the green, then I gave [caddie] Joey [LaCava] a high-five, because it was done. I can handle that from there.”
It was a far cry from this time last year, when Woods was still waiting for his lower back to fuse and wasn’t sure he could ever play again. He told stories of being unable to get off the couch to watch his kids play soccer, much less to chip and putt.
Horschel shot four-under 66 to finish alone in second place, while Hideki Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler each shot the low rounds of Sunday’s play with 65.
“It’s been tough,” Woods told NBC’s Dan Hicks during the trophy presentation. “I’ve had a not-so-easy last couple of years and I’ve worked my way back and … it’s just hard to believe I’ve won the Tour Championship.”