Oct 28, 2019: Tiger Woods has completed a historic performance at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP.
Woods tied Sam Snead’s record for most PGA TOUR victories by winning the first TOUR event to be held in Japan. The victory in Japan was the 82nd victory of Woods’ storied career.
They came to see history, the fans who swarmed the inaugural ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in numbers that were “insane” (Jordan Spieth), “phenomenal” (Daniel Berger), and “almost as many fans as we usually have in a full week in just one day” (Japan Golf Tour pro Ryo Ishikawa).
Then the man they’d all come to see, Tiger Woods, upped the ante as only he can.
Woods led wire-to-wire for his 82nd PGA TOUR victory, tying Sam Snead atop the official victory ledger. The only thing that slowed him down was the torrential rain that wiped out the second round, but Woods played through it. Undeterred at the end of a long week, he went 1 under for his final seven holes in front of fewer fans Monday morning, completing a final-round 67 to beat Hideki Matsuyama (67) by three at Japan’s first-ever PGA TOUR event.
Fans thought they were coming out to see history, but wound up seeing HISTORY, as well.
“Well, it’s a big number,” Woods said of his 82nd victory. “It’s about consistency and doing it for a long period of time. … I’m very fortunate to have had the career I’ve had so far.”
As with the other 81 victories, Woods wore red in the final round. (Also, a black sweater vest.) After being called off the course because of darkness Sunday, he and 45 other players returned Monday morning to complete their remaining holes. Woods bogeyed the 12th and saw his three-shot lead cut to two, but Matsuyama failed to convert a short birdie putt at the par-5 14th.
Woods birdied the 14th and cruised from there, punctuating the win with another birdie on 18.
Sungjae Im (65) and Rory McIlroy (67) tied for third at 13 under, six back.
“Living legend! Congrats on No. 82 @TigerWoods!” tweeted Tony Finau as reactions poured in. The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, where Woods got his first win in 1996, also tweeted congratulations, as did Jack Nicklaus and Condoleezza Rice.
“Just a crazy number,” Gary Woodland, who played with Woods the last two rounds, said of his 82nd victory. “You look at the guys that have won 10 times and it’s pretty special.”
Snead was 52 when he won for the 82nd time; Woods is 43. He converted a 54-hole lead or co-lead into a win for the 55th time in 59 chances, including his last nine.
It is tempting to look ahead. Vijay Singh won 22 times in his 40s, Kenny Perry 11, Steve Stricker nine. What if Woods, who now has three victories in his 40s, is just getting going again?
But to look ahead risks failing to fully appreciate the present moment, and how unlikely it all is. Asked to describe Woods in just a few words, the superfans in Chiba alternately likened him to a deity and a phoenix risen from the ashes, the latter imagery being especially potent in Japan.
It’s also especially apt.
From 2014 through 2017, Woods often couldn’t even swing a club. He gave updates on his health, often grim ones, at Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups, where he served as an assistant to U.S. captains. (Captain Woods will lead the U.S. Presidents Cup Team at Royal Melbourne, Dec. 12-15, and is expected to be the first playing captain since Hale Irwin in ’94.)
Finally, in April of ’17, he saw Dr. Richard Guyer of the Center for Disc Replacement at the Texas Back Institute, where spinal fusion surgery gave Woods a new lease on life. For the first time in years he played a full schedule in 2018, punctuating it with his 80th win – his first in over five years – at the TOUR Championship at East Lake just over 13 months ago.
“Probably the low point was not knowing if I’d ever be able to live pain-free again,” he said then. “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?”
Woods will turn 44 in two months, and with his back holding, recent events have nonetheless complicated things. His left knee was aching by the end of 2018, but as he wanted to play the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, he put off surgery. That seemed like a good choice as he won The Masters Tournament in April, his 15th major title and 81st win overall.
Alas, the euphoria gave way to more pain: His knee hurt so much that he couldn’t get down to read putts. He didn’t mention it, but his scores fell off and he faded from contention. He failed to reach the TOUR Championship, and underwent his fifth operation on the knee on Aug. 20.
As a result, Woods was something of a question mark for the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP. Would the knee hold up under the strain of tournament golf? He went 3 over for his first three holes on Thursday, but bounced back with nine birdies for a 64. A typhoon and 10 inches of rain wiped out the second round before it began, but he bounced back with another 64.
Scores of 66-67 kept a world-class field at arm’s length in Japan, the seventh different country in which he has won. (The others: America, England, Scotland, Spain, Canada and Ireland.)
“To battle through the injuries he’s dealt with – gosh, he’s young and he’s playing unbelievable,” Woodland said. “The ballstriking exhibition I’ve seen the last two days is a joke.”
Added Woods: “I didn’t really know that I would come back and play at this level.”
That the event spilled over into Monday morning was fitting. The end of the ZOZO was like the last two years in the career of Woods himself: bonus golf that has left Woods and others smiling.
When will he break the record with No. 83? That depends on when he plays next – the Farmers Insurance Open is a good bet – and whether and for how long he stays healthy.
If his career longevity mirrors Snead’s, then watch out.
“As far as playing until 52, I hope that’s the case,” Woods said. “If you would have asked me a few years ago, I would have given you a different answer, but certainly the future looks brighter than it has, and hopefully I can be as consistent as he was well into my 40s and early 50s.”
Three wins in the last 13 months are an awfully good start.
Things to Know
- Tiger Woods tied Sam Snead’s TOUR record of 82 career victories with his three-shot win at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
- Woods has now converted 25 of 25 leads of three shots or more after 54 holes and 44 of 46 solo 54-hole leads
- In the first ever PGA TOUR event in his home country, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (-16) finished solo second
- Making his season debut, 2019 FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy finished T3 (-13)
- Gary Woodland recorded his fourth consecutive top-five in Asia with a solo-fifth
- Woods’ victory continues a streak of seven 54-hole leader/co-leaders going on to win this season. The last time the first seven events of the season were won by the leader/co-leader entering the final round was 1979 (9)
- Woods’ 82nd career victory comes at age 43. Sam Snead’s 82nd came at age 52