By: Patrick Donnelly
Tiger Woods is back. He is officially back. He is a winner once again and the comeback is now complete. If Tiger wasn’t already back after close-calls at The Open Championship or the PGA Championship, he is officially back now after dominating and winning the TOUR Championship while nearly stealing the FedEx Cup from Justin Rose in the process.
Rose may have won the FedEx Cup, but the main story of the day was Tiger’s 80th victory on the PGA Tour, good enough for second all-time behind Sam Snead (82). It was Tiger’s first victory since winning five times and winning player of the year in 2013 (1,876 days to be exact).
Tiger dominated the tournament, having at least a share of the lead after each round. His rounds of 65-68-65-71 put him at 11-under-par for the tournament, two shots clear of second-place-finisher Billy Horschel (9-under).
Tiger’s victory was never in question as he started the day with a three stroke lead which grew to five after the first nine holes, and a rather conservative back nine closed his day at one-over-par, ensuring his victory; by the time his lead fell to two strokes, Horschel was already signing his final scorecard in the clubhouse.
That meant nothing stood in between Tiger and victory by that point in the tournament, leaving Justin Rose as the only obstacle keeping Tiger from sweeping the weekend.
As for Rose, he flirted with victory at the tournament after tying Tiger for the lead after 36 holes, but ultimately regressed in the final two rounds, managing to finish in a tie for fourth place, which was enough to win him the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize. Rose struggled for most of Sunday and his FedEx Cup victory wasn’t as much a sure thing as Tiger’s at the tournament.
Coming down the stretch, all of the scenarios for Tiger to win the FedEx Cup in addition to the TOUR Championship were falling into place. Bryson DeChambeau had to finish tied-fifteenth or worse; he finished nineteenth. Tony Finau needed to finish tied-third or worse; he ended up in a tie for fifteenth. Dustin Johnson, who finished in third-place, would have needed to finish in a three-way tie for second or worse. The same went for Justin Thomas, who came in at tied-seventh.
Keegan Bradley had to finish tied-second or worse; he closed the tournament in a tie for twenty-sixth. Everything was coming together for Tiger, who also needed Justin Rose to finish in three-way tie for fifth or worse.
However, Rose came through on the final hole, bombing his drive down the middle on 18, and striping a long iron onto the green to set himself up for an eagle putt. The 32-year-old ended up two-putting for birdie, clinching the FedEx Cup and adding to an impressive resumé which includes a U.S. Open victory, an Olympic gold medal, and nine PGA Tour wins.
The Tiger Effect was on in full force at East Lake on Sunday as massive crowds lined the fairways with everyone hoping to even get a glimpse of the greatest to ever tee it up. The sometimes anti-climactic TOUR Championship was given a new electricity and we were given unforgettable moments like Tiger’s walk down the 18th fairway with a massive crowd following him or the 18th green looking like an amphitheater as the crowds around it stretched as far as the eye could see.
This was the tournament that golf fans and Tiger supporters had all been waiting for, just a year removed from when Tiger was first given clearance to simply chip golf balls. Tiger completed what could be considered the greatest comeback in the history of golf.
He went from struggling to walk and get out of bed, never mind swinging a golf club. Tiger underwent four back surgeries. There was the chipping yips, a few forgettable comeback attempts, the shame of a DUI, rehab, leaked photos, and almost everything else that could have gone wrong for a guy who was once at the top of the world.
Once Tiger got back to golf this season, his own game had obstacles that were keeping him from the winner’s circle. First he had the chipping yips. Then, Tiger couldn’t drive the golf ball; then, the issue was his putting. All of those went in the rearview mirror at East Lake this past weekend. Strokes gained is a metric that measures each shot a player takes by how much it reduces his score compared to the field average.
This week, Tiger was able to drive the golf ball well and hit nearly all of his fairways, finishing sixth in strokes gained off the tee (0.48). Tiger’s putting struggles were a thing of the past as well as he finished with the second-most strokes gained on the field with his putter (1.28). What made Tiger the greatest to ever do it was his ball-striking with his irons and wedges, that proved true this season as Tiger finished No. 1 on the PGA Tour for strokes gained approach-the-green, making him the best ball-striker in the world once again.
Looking ahead, Tiger and the rest of Team USA head to Paris to take on Team Europe in another showdown at the Ryder Cup. Tiger’s game is now complete and exactly where it needs to be after he completely rebuilding his swing piece-by-piece, making the opportunities endless for upcoming tournaments and majors. The comeback is complete.