Tiger Woods is a champion once again!
With a 1-over 71 in his Sunday round at the season-ending Tour Championship, Tiger reached 11-under for the week at East Lake Golf Club to win by two strokes, recording the 80th victory of his legendary PGA Tour career.
That number is just two short of Sam Snead’s all-time record, but coming an arduous 1876 days after his 79th win, this one feels different than any he has captured before.
In those five-plus years since that last trip to the winner’s circle, Tiger has dealt with excruciating injuries; a degrading personal scandal; chipping yips, spinal fusion surgery, one long layoff after another; deeply shaken confidence; embarrassing scores in a game he had previously dominated like no one ever had; complex swing changes; and intense, unyielding public criticism about both his private and professional life.
A year ago, he had not even been permitted to hit practice shots over 100 yards. As recently as 10 months ago, the man who has spent more time atop the Official World Golf Rankings (by far) than anyone in history was ranked an astonishing 1193rd in the world.
And now, he is a champion again, and at 42-years old, he’s officially reclaimed his place among the game’s elites. With every minor improvement and every tiny piece of anything that could be construed as good news, hoards of hopeful fans would always ask, “Is Tiger back?”. Well, with this victory, it can finally be said with confidence: Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer in history, and inarguably the man who has had the greatest influence in growing the game, is indeed back.
Those conversant with the FedExCup Playoff system know the Tour Championship was only half of what there was to be won in Atlanta this week. The tournament was the finale of the year-long FedExCup Championship season and with $10 million, the richest prize in sports, on the line, England’s Justin Rose, who was playing his first event as the world No. 1 ranked golfer, did just enough to edge Tiger, by finishing inside the top 5 at East Lake.
Rose started the week No. 2 in the FedExCup Standings, while Tiger started 20th. Rose is leaving East Lake with a bigger check, but there is no doubt that Tiger’s win is the biggest, most important, and most inspiring story of the day, and the season.
And it may be the greatest comeback story in sports history.
2018 TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP
FINAL-ROUND TOP 10
1. Tiger Woods -11 (+1)
2. Billy Horschel -9 (-4)
3. Dustin Johnson -7 (-3)
4. Hideki Matsuyama -6 (-5)
4. Justin Rose -6 (+3)
4. Webb Simpson -6 (-3)
7. Rickie Fowler -5 (-5)
7. Justin Thomas -5 (-1)
7. Xander Schauffele -5 (-1)
7. Rory McIlroy -5 (+4)
11. Tommy Fleetwood -4
11. Jon Rahm -4
15. Tony Finau -3
18. Jason Day -2
19. Bryson DeChambeau -1
21. Francesco Molinari +1
26. Brooks Koepka +4
28. Patrick Reed +9
29. Bubba Watson +10
30. Phil Mickelson +13
HOW TIGER WOODS WON THE TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP
While the close of the Tour Championship was a thrilling, unbelievable scene, most of the final round lacked much in the way of excitement.
Largely off the strength of 5-under 65s on both Thursday and Saturday, Tiger started Sunday with a three-stroke lead, increased that lead by one more with a birdie on the first hole, and while there were not a lot of fireworks on a difficult final day, Hardly any of his top competitors made anything resembling a run at the lead.
Woods’ playing partner, Rory McIlroy, was especially terrible, bringing back memories of how brutal it was to be grouped with Tiger in his prime.
After his opening birdie, Tiger parred out the front-nine to go out in 1-under 34. The back-nine was tougher, and when Tiger carded bogeys on Nos. 10, 15, and 16, there began to be pangs of trouble, as a strong close by 2014 Tour Championship and FedExCup Champion Billy Horschel cut the lead to two holes with two to go.
An impressive up-and-down on 17 for par, basically put an end to that threat, as Tiger reached the final hole with a two-stroke lead on the par-5 18th hole that had not seen a single bogey on the day.
With an absolutely enormous, jubilant crowd following him down the fairway and chanting his name, an admittedly emotional scene for Tiger, he nearly capped his monumental day with a birdie. The putt attempt barely missed the hole, but Tiger was able to tap in for par to seal the deal.
Tiger’s short game was the biggest key to his success at East Lake, as he finished 1st in the first in the field in scrambling and second in strokes gained: putting, but he also enjoyed a strong week off the tees, finishing T3 in driving accuracy.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR TIGER
The improbable win brings validation to a rigorous recovery process that cements Tiger as one of the hardest-working athletes in sports history. The amount of progress he made over the past year has been beyond remarkable, as he went from not even being able to tie his shoes painlessly to taking down one of the strongest fields of the season.
Tiger did great to even make the FedExCup finale, and his performance very nearly won him the year-long Championship.
Sitting at 20th to begin the week, he needed a victory, Bryson DeChambeau to finish T15 or worse, Rose to finish in a three-way tie for T5 or worse, Tony Finau to finish T3 or worse, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson to finish in a three-way tie for T2 or worse, and for Keegan Bradley to finish T2 or worse.
Six of those seven things actually did happen, with only Rose finishing too high, and that only happened after a birdie on the final hole.
Tiger moved to No. 13 in the Official World Golf Rankings, and will enter next weekend’s Ryder Cup in Paris on top of his game, which is tremendous for an American team attempting to keep the Cup against a very talented European side.
HOW JUSTIN ROSE WON THE FEDEXCUP
After finishing runner-up in the last two FedExCup Playoff events, Rose was No. 2 in the standings coming into the finale, trailing only Bryson DeChambeau.
Continuing his stellar play, Rose was tied for second with McIlroy through three rounds, sitting four strokes back of Tiger. The 38-year old was facing some additional pressure as this was his first tournament as world No. 1, a career milestone he had reached for the first time.
It ended up not being Rose’s best round. Two bogeys to just one birdie sent him out in 1-over 36, and he was even worse on the back nine.
DeChambeau’s struggles for the week kept him as the projected FedExCup Champion winner for most of the day, but after bogeys on 11, 14, and 16, he had fallen outside of the top five and needed to play the last two holes in 1-under or better to regain that position on top.
Rose parred 17, and then, needing a birdie, unleashed a monstrous 360-yard drive that actually ran through the fairway. His approach was inches from disaster, just barely missing a greenside bunker and bouncing onto the green. From there, he was able to two-putt for birdie and lock up the FedExCup Championship. He shot a final-round 3-over 73 to finish T4.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ROSE
While Rose undoubtedly would have liked to have fared better on Sunday, Rose still leaves Atlanta happy with his result, and happy with the state of his game going into next week’s Ryder Cup, where he figures to play a key role for the European squad.
For the season, Rose managed an impressive 11 top-10 finishes in just 18 PGA Tour events. It will not be enough to get serious consideration over Brooks Koepka for the much-coveted PGA Tour Player of the Year Award, but all in all, it was a great 2018 for Rose.
Despite finishing T4, Rose’s week as the World No. 1 didn’t last long. He will be back to No. 2 when the new rankings come out Monday, as he is back to trailing Dustin Johnson, the man who has held the top position for most of the past two years.
Despite over-par Sunday rounds, Tiger and Rose were the talk of the final round at East Lake, but there were others in the field who left Atlanta feeling good as well.
The Tour Championship ends a disappointing season for Hideki Matsuyama, who came nowhere near replicating his incredible 2017, but his final round 5-under 65 tied for the lowest round in the field.
In the difficult playing conditions (more due to a brutal course setup than any external weather influences), Matsuyama carded six birdies to just one bogey to finish T4. His short game was a disaster at East Lake, but he led the field for the week in strokes gained: approach-the-green and strokes gained: tee-to-green.
Tying Matsuyama’s 65 was 18-hole co-leader Rickie Fowler, matching his Thursday opening round. Also on the tail end of a disappointing season, Fowler played the back nine in a bogey-free 4-under to ascend into the top 10.
While Fowler failed to add a victory on the season, the man who is facing as much pressure as anyone to come through in a major championship gave some promise for next season by finishing 2018 with four consecutive finishes inside the top 20. Rickie hit 12 of 14 fairways on Sunday to finish T3 for the week in driving accuracy.
Billy Horschel was just one stroke worse than Matsuyama or Fowler, shooting a 4-under 66, but he finished better than both, taking the runner-up position to Tiger. The only man who put anything resembling pressure on Tiger late on Sunday led the field for the week in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation.
Known as a streaky player, Horschel entered the playoffs with a world ranking of 92, but after three-consecutive finishes inside the top 3, and a fifth-place finish in the final FedExCup Standings, the former Florida Gator now sits at No. 35 in the latest OWGR.
Rory McIlroy got to realize one of his lifelong dreams in round four, playing in the final Sunday pairing with Tiger Woods – who was his idol growing up.
However, McIlroy may have been star-struck as he was absolutely abysmal on Sunday. Three bogeys and a double on the front nine had Rory 4-over on the turn, and he was not able to improve his position at all from there, posting a 4-over 74, finishing T7.
At third in the FedExCup Standings coming into the week, after top 10s in each of the first three legs of the playoffs, Tony Finau could have won the $10 million prize with a victory at East Lake. He played well enough to reach sixth place after 54 holes, and had a prayer of catching Tiger with a great Sunday round, but he was just not able to find his form on Sunday.
Finau started his back nine with bogeys on Nos. 10, 11, 12, and 13, leading a 2-over 72 that dropped him into a tie for 15th place. Another player who will be representing the Americans at the Ryder Cup, Finau will need to play much better around the greens in Paris.
Phil Mickelson finished an historically terrible week with an awful Sunday 2-over 72. Like Tiger, Phil ended a five-year winless drought this season, but he closed with a horrendous 13-over par effort that placed him dead last on the final leaderboard.
His American teammates at the Ryder Cup will be hoping the poor week was an aberration. That Tiger vs Phil Thanksgiving Week $9 million pay-per-view showdown might be losing some luster as well. Based on current form, it could be an ugly match.
FIGHTING THE PAIN
“Probably the low point was not knowing if I’d ever be able to live pain-free again. Am I going to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down without feeling the pain that I was in. I just didn’t want to live that way.
This is how the rest of my life is going to be? It’s going to be a tough rest of my life. And so — I was beyond playing. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg. That was a pretty low point for a very long time.”
– Tiger Woods