September 24, 2018: 1,876 days. 4 surgeries. Uncertainty. The wait is over for a Tiger Woods victory. The comeback was always real, but it feels even more so after his triumphant run in the TOUR Championship this week. Woods worked from the front of the pack from the start and never let up. If the Sunday 64 at the PGA Championship served to warn, it took only a 71 at East Lake to deliver the final punch.
Rory McIlroy played with Woods and faded into the background like a man who did not belong. McIlroy shot 74, dropping into a tie for seventh with Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele.
Justin Rose started the day as the firm favourite to win the FedExCup. In the end, he needed a clutch birdie on the 18th to secure the silver and a $10mn cheque. He was no longer the number one though, after finishing in fourth behind Dustin Johnson, who retook the top ranking.
Johnson finished in third at 7-under 273, two strokes behind second-placed Billy Horschel. Rose tied for fourth with Hideki Matsuyama and Webb Simpson.
But the number that mattered was a 269. Woods secured a two-stroke victory with a tap-in par at the 72nd hole. As he raised his arms with childlike delight, the roars at East Lake reverberated well beyond this classy neighbourhood in Atlanta.
“I had a hard time not crying on the last hole,” admitted Woods. “I had to suck it up and hit some shots. Once I got the ball on the green, it was done. I could handle it from there.
“At the beginning of the year, it was a tall order but as the year progressed and I proved I could play, I knew I could do it again.”
Woods, who recently extended his relationship with Hero Moto Corp, made birdie at the first hole to extend his lead at the top. But he barely needed any cushion through the rest of the way. As both Rose and McIlroy struggled to call out their best golf, Woods only needed to stay the course.
“I just can’t believe I pulled this off after what I’ve gone through,” added an emotional Woods. “It’s been tough. I’ve had a not-so-easy last couple of years,” added Woods. “I’ve worked my way back. I couldn’t have done it without the help of all the people around me.”
Woods made two birdies and three bogeys as he coasted to victory followed by a vast throng of exuberant fans. With victory in the bag, Woods can look ahead to the next season, hoping to add to his collection of major titles and surpass Sam Snead’s collection of 82 PGA TOUR titles.
After dropping out of the top 1000 less than a year ago, Woods will climb up to 13th on the rankings and a chase for the top ranking seems like a real possibility.