Tiger Woods rolls back the years to secure famous win
14-time Major winner records first victory since 2013 at season-ending Tour Championship
More than just a blast from the past, Tiger Woods - with that club twirl of old acting like a conductor’s baton orchestrating his own music - strode the fairways of East Lake in Atlanta with a sense of entitlement en route to victory in the Tour Championship, the finale to the PGA Tour season.
Although there were some nervy moments late-on, the 42-year-old American managed to complete the task and ensure a remarkable comeback from undergoing three spinal surgeries in four years: a final round 71 for 269 which gave Woods a two stroke winning margin over Billy Horschel, who again showed his liking for the course with a closing 66.
For a time, it seemed as if Woods would also scoop the $10 million FedEx Cup champions bonus as Justin Rose - like Rory McIlroy - struggled in the final round. However, Rose overcame a tough run-in with a last gasp birdie on the 18th, for 73 for 274, that enabled him to retake that massive payday from under Woods’s nose.
Rose may have taken the monetary jackpot, but this was all about Woods . . . his comeback for the ages acclaimed by fans, who invaded the 18th fairway as he made his way to the green, showing how much he is revered.
“Tiger-Tiger” came the chants, alternating with “U-S-A U-S-A” in advance of this week’s Ryder Cup in Paris where Woods will be central to the Americans’ bid to retain the trophy.
Woods’s win, his first on tour since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but more significantly his first since returning from spinal fusion surgery, was reminiscent of his old self: dominant, front-running and in control of every facet of his game. It was the 24th time of his storied career that Woods carried a lead of three strokes or greater into the final round and the 24th time that he converted the advantage into a victory.
“It was just a grind out there, I loved every bit of it, the fight and the grind and the tough conditions. I just had to suck up and hit shots . . . at the beginning of the year that was a tall order but as the year progressed I proved I could play and I found a swing and put pieces together and I knew I could do it again,” said Woods, who achieved the 80th win of his career.
“I had a hard time not crying coming up that last hole,” admitted Woods, who was greeted by Ryder Cup teammates Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau as he walked off the 18th green. The scenes which greeted his win were extraordinary, even by the standards set by Woods through his career.
McIlroy set off three shots adrift of Woods but with great intentions to spoil the party. “All I can do is worry about myself. It doesn’t matter who it is I’m playing with. It’s exciting for golf in general that’s he up there. But for me, all I can do is concentrate on myself. The game is hard enough without looking at other people,” McIlroy had claimed in advance of the final round.
On the first hole, McIlroy, as if throwing down a marker, outdrove Woods by some 25 yards. It was to prove a false indicator of what would unfold. Woods’s response was to hit an approach shot to 10 feet and rolled in the birdie putt to increase his lead.
McIlroy’s driving mimicked that old cliché of army golf, left-right left-right. “Fore! Left,” he roared on the fifth tee as his pulled drive finished in the rough, his recovery shot hampered by trees and forcing him to shorten his backswing as he ran up a bogey. On the seventh, he was shouting, “Fore! Right,” with the outcome even worse as his drive flew beyond the red stakes defining a hazard. It resulted in a double-bogey six and McIlroy’s race was already run.
Indeed, McIlroy’s scorecard from the fourth to the eighth hole painted an ugly picture of how his quest to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Woods lay in ruins: he went bogey-bogey-birdie-double bogey-bogey. McIlroy eventually signed for a 74 for five-under-par 275 which left him in tied-seventh. Not the target he had set for himself at the start of the day.
In contrast, Woods, the man in control, hit fairways and found greens. Where McIlroy’s ball was attracted to trouble like some kind of magnet, Woods avoided the rough and the trees. When Woods hit a loose shot on the Par 3 15th hole, he got a break as his ball cleared the water hazard by a foot. He failed to get up and down to save par, but that bogey was far from disastrous. However, another bogey on the 16th, raised some doubts about his ability to close the deal.
Rose, too, had a wobbly finish with bogeys on the 11th, 14th and 16th holes that had the Englishman tightening up on the home stretch.
“I talked about Plan A and Plan B. Plan A never seemed to be that much in my mind, with Tiger’s solid start . . . and then it just got really grinding. I started to miss fairways, do some things wrong. I guess it all boils down to the 18th and I hit my swing of the week off the tee,” said Rose, of managing to get the crucial birdie on the last hole to claim the $10 million bonus. “I felt pressure when I was throwing it away . . . It was a weird scenario where I wasn’t going to win the tournament and trying not to lose the FedEx Cup but I clicked into gear at just the right time.”
Collated Collated final scores & totals in the Tour Championship (USA unless stated, par 70):
269 Tiger Woods 65 68 65 71
271 Billy Horschel 71 65 69 66
273 Dustin Johnson 69 70 67 67
274 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 72 66 71 65, Justin Rose (Eng) 66 67 68 73, Webb Simpson 69 70 68 67
275 Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 67 68 66 74, Justin Thomas 67 69 70 69, Xander Schauffele 68 70 68 69, Rickie Fowler 65 72 73 65
276 Jon Rahm (Spa) 68 68 68 72, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 69 69 70 68, Paul Casey (Eng) 68 71 66 71, Gary Woodland 66 72 68 70
277 Tony Finau 67 71 67 72, Kyle Stanley 69 68 67 73, Aaron Wise 70 69 67 71
278 Jason Day (Aus) 68 73 69 68 279 Bryson DeChambeau 71 75 66 67
280 Cameron Smith (Aus) 70 73 69 68
281 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 70 75 69 67, Marc Leishman (Aus) 73 69 68 71, Patton Kizzire 71 71 68 71, Patrick Cantlay 71 65 76 69
283 Kevin Na 72 68 72 71
284 Brooks Koepka 69 78 67 70, Keegan Bradley 73 73 69 69
289 Patrick Reed 72 74 72 71
290 Bubba Watson 70 72 73 75
293 Phil Mickelson 73 72 76 7