At the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open, at nearly 53 years of age, Sam Snead captured the final victory of his legendary PGA Tour career, and that number he posted, 82 wins, cemented the all-time wins record that he claimed more than a decade earlier. Long thought to be an unbreakable record, Snead has held that top spot ever since.
That is, until today.
On Monday morning, October 28th, 2019, at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, just outside Tokyo, Japan, Tiger Woods won the inaugural Zozo Championship – the first PGA Tour event held in Japan, wire-to-wire to claim the 82nd title of his highly-distinguished career.
And as amazing as Snead was in a phenomenal career that spanned 30 years, Tiger found a way to outdo him, notching the record-tying victory two months short of his 44th birthday. While Snead’s 82nd came on his 425th career start, Tiger needed just 359. Tiger’s 40s have been famously up-and-down, but it seems inevitable that Snead will soon drop to No. 2 on the list he sat atop for more than 60 years.
As for the tournament itself, torrential downpours on Friday ravaged the course, delaying the second round a full day, and necessitating a Monday morning finish. A marathon Sunday saw players finish more than 27 holes, and when darkness forced officials to sound the horns, Tiger stood on the 12th tee box at 18-under-par, good for a three-stroke advantage over local favorite Hideki Matsuyama, a Japan native.
Tiger had slept on many leads in his career, so this was nothing new for him. Unequivocally the greatest front-runner of all-time, Tiger came into the week a ridiculous 43-for-45 when holding the outright 54-hole lead on Tour. And this was a 65-hole lead.
Still, there was a lot on the line, and nothing about Tiger’s recent career has been predictable. He won last April’s Masters Tournament in very inspiring fashion, but has not played especially well, or often, since, and had his fifth knee surgery on August 20th, two days after a disappointing T37 at the BMW Championship surprisingly knocked him out of the FedExCup playoffs two rounds before the finale. He had not played since.
Tiger’s three-stroke lead was cut to a deuce when he bogeyed the par-4 12th hole, and suddenly it became a two-man race. Fortunately for Tiger, though, Matsuyama failed to keep the momentum he had on Sunday, when he birdied his final two holes before play halted. Matsuyama missed a huge opportunity when he missed a short birdie putt on the par-5 14th. Tiger, playing one group behind Matsuyama, birdied the 14th himself, and the lead grew back to three.
Matsuyama would again cut the lead to two, sinking a long birdie putt on the par-3 16th, but he failed to capitalize on the 17th hole, and absolutely needing a low score on the par-5 18th, he hit his tee shot into a green-side bunker. Then, needing to hole-out for eagle, he blasted his third shot well beyond the pin, leading to a disappointing par that made Tiger’s job considerably easier.
Tiger calmly landed on the center of the green with his third shot, and made the birdie putt to clinch his 82nd career victory. At 19-under for the week, he finished three clear of the field, especially impressive considering he started the tournament with three straight bogeys.
Final Scores: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Tiger Woods -19 (-3)
2. Hideki Matsuyama -16 (-3)
3. Sung-jae Im -13 (-5)
3. Rory McIlroy -13 (-3)
5. Gary Woodland -12 (E)
6. Billy Horschel -11 (E)
6. Corey Conners -11 (E)
8. Byeong-Hun An -10 (-4)
8. Charles Howell III -10 (-1)
10. Xander Schauffele -9 (-5)
10. Ryan Palmer -9 (-3)
10. Danny Lee -9 (-2)
13. Shane Lowry -8
13. Ian Poulter -8
13. Keegan Bradley -8
17. Justin Thomas -7
17. Patrick Reed -7
22. Jason Day -6
22. Tommy Fleetwood -6
22. Collin Morikawa -6
33. Adam Scott -3
33. Sergio Garcia -3
33. Joaquin Niemann -3
41. Viktor Hovland -1
51. Bubba Watson +1
59. Tony Finau +3
66. Kevin Kisner +5
66. Jordan Spieth +5
How Tiger Woods Won The Zozo Championship
It sounds simplistic, but Tiger won by having a lot more great holes than anyone on the course. He carded 27 birdies for the week, a whopping seven more than the next closest in the field. He cancelled out his 8 bogeys for the week, plus a lot more.
Tiger bounced back brilliantly after his bogey-bogey-bogey start on Thursday, still finishing the first round with the co-lead, and staying out front for the rest of the tournament.
But really, he won this tournament with the tireless effort he put into retraining his body and mind after countless injuries and surgeries temporarily derailed one of the greatest careers in the history of professional sports.
Tiger was stuck on victory No. 79 for five years, a time where he admitted that he did not know if he would ever walk normally again, let alone golf well enough to be competitive. He notched win No. 80 at the 2018 Tour Championship, 8 months before his win at The Masters. This win came in his season debut, the 8th time in his career he has accomplished that feat.
Woods’ Winning Numbers
Fairways: 34/52, 65.4% (9th)
Greens: 55/72, 76.4% (4th)
Putts/GIR: 91/1.648 (1st)
Scores: 26 Birdies, 37 Pars, 8 Bogeys
Par-3: -9 (9 Birdies, 11 Pars)
Par-4: -4 (11 Birdies, 22 Pars, 7 Bogey)
Par-5: -6 (7 Birdies, 4 Pars, 1 Bogey)
What It Means For TigerWin No. 83 feels inevitable, but it will likely not happen in 2019. Tiger is not in the field for next week’s WGC-HSBC Champions in China, and is not currently scheduled for any other event in the next two months. The belief is that he will make his next start at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, an event he has won seven times.
However, there is a time coming up where he MIGHT play. Tiger is the U.S. Captain for December’s Presidents Cup. After playing so well in late 2018 and winning The Masters, many wondered if he could be a playing captain. When he struggled with his play and his body in the months following The Masters, that thought was mostly just brought up in jest, but now that he appears to be at peak form again, it is no longer a joke.
Could he actually pick himself for one of his Captain’s Picks? Those picks are due in a week. When asked about it after his round, Tiger quipped, “I think the player definitely got the captain’s attention.”
With the victory in Japan, Tiger jumps to No. 6 in the world rankings. That could end up being significant with the Olympics coming up in less than a year. To qualify for The Olympics, which just happens to be taking place in Tokyo, Tiger would need to be one of the four highest-ranked Americans inside the top 15 of the world rankings. He is now fourth.
Tiger has expressed considerable interest in playing the event, one of the very few things he has yet to accomplish in his career, largely a product of golf only coming back to The Olympics four years ago.
Woods’ 2019-20 PGA Tour Season
Cuts Made: 1
Wins: 1 (ZOZO Championship)
Earnings: $1,755,000 (3)
FedExCup Pts: 500 (7)
World Rank Before/After: 10/6
Reigning PGA Tour rookie of the year Sungjae Im has taken no time in making a presence in his sophomore season. The 21-year-old South Korean finished T3 after a final round 5-under 65 that included six birdies.
Now with two top-3 finishes already in the new season, Im’s 20 birdies finished tied for second in the field for the week. Win No. 1 on the PGA Tour for Im feels imminent.
It took a bit of time for Shane Lowry to get his groove back after he absolutely obliterated the field at The Open Championship, the final major of the year, in July, as he understandably celebrated exceptionally hard and exceptionally long, but his results have been trending positively again, with recent finishes of T11 and T15 on the European Tour. He missed the cut in his last event, also a European Tour, but playing his first PGA Tour event since the FedExCup playoffs, the amiable Irishman put together a strong week in Japan.
After opening with a 1-over 71, Lowry improved his score in each of the next four rounds, and in the final round, he shot a 5-under 65, which tied for the second-lowest final-round score, to finish in a share of 13th place.
Lowry finished the week second in the field in bogeys with five, and only one of those was carded over the weekend.
Justin Thomas has become something of the Tiger Woods of PGA Tour events in Asia, a reputation which was further enforced a week ago when he claimed victory in South Korea at The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges for the second time in the three-year history of the event. His start in Japan, however, was pedestrian, as he opened with rounds of 70, 69, and 69, respectively.
Round four saw Asian Golf prodigy JT again, though, as he shot a 5-under 65 which included birdies on each of the final three holes.
The young man who is 71 wins behind Tiger, jumped 20 spots up the final leaderboard into a tie for 17th place.
The low round of the day came from a man who has shown flashes, but not consistency, Harold Varner III, who increased his profile by making the final Sunday pairing at last May’s PGA Championship.
Varner III shot a bogey-free 6-under 64, propelling him a field-high 23 positions up the final leaderboard, into a share of 27th place. Presumably on good terms with Tiger, Varner III had one of the more amusing comments towards the tournament winner, tweeting at Tiger, “I knew your old ass would get it done!!”.
Gary Woodland struggled badly in the months following his breakthrough major victory at last June’s U.S. Open, failing to post a quality start in his final six starts of the season.
However, the 35-year-old University of Kansas product has found his best stuff again in Asia, posting a T3 at last week’s The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea, and opening the Zozo Championship with a 6-under 64 that had him tied for the lead with Tiger after 18 holes.
Woodland had a front seat to history, being paired with Tiger and Keegan Bradley for the final two rounds, but he did not operate as well in the spotlight as Tiger. With just two birdies in the final round, with the final on 18, which he needed to not the round over par, Woodland shot a mediocre even-par 70.
Still, Woodland figures to be named a U.S. Team Captain’s pick by Tiger for the upcoming President’s Cup.
Extremely promising 20-year-old Chilean Joaquin Niemann captured win PGA Tour No. 1 of his young career last month in West Virginia, and had himself in good position through three rounds in Japan, sitting in a tie for 11th at 7-under, but his round 4 was a disaster. Niemann was 3-over through 5-holes, and added three bogeys on the back-nine to finish with a 4-over 74 and drop 22 spots to post a T33.
Aside from a T9 at a late July WGC event, the game of Bubba Watson has been an absolute wreck since last year’s Masters. He has failed to recapture any of the magic he showed during his 3-win 2018 season, and his round four showing in Japan will not help things any. After three consecutive rounds under par, Watson imploded in the final round with a 5-over 75 to drop a co-field high 28 spots down the leaderboard into a share of 51st place.
The man who dropped the same amount of spots, also finishing T51 after a final-round 75 was former Japanese golf superstar Ryo Ishikawa. The now 28-year-old long looked like the future of Japan golf, but fizzled on the PGA Tour, which he has not played on regularly since 2017.
However, Ishikawa won twice on the Japan Tour last year and has risen to 102nd in the world rankings, so there might be more for him yet. Despite a terrible weekend, Ishikawa played well early, opening with a pair of 2-under 68s.
“Physically, I can’t do any of the things I used to do; that’s just the way it is. Four back surgeries, and my back just cannot do what it used to, but I can certainly think my way around a golf course. I don’t hit the ball anywhere near as far compared to the field: 300 yards used to be a good thing, now it’s chump change, so I can still manage my way around a golf course, I know how to play, and I was able to do that this week.”
– Tiger Woods