Monday 25 March 2019

Woods' second coming sealed in 80th tour title


Rory McIlroy congratulates Tiger Woods after winning the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy congratulates Tiger Woods after winning the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Keogh

Tiger Woods didn’t have to walk on water to make his Second Coming a reality but any doubts that his aura is still intact were blown to smithereens as he claimed a dramatic 80th PGA Tour win at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

Just three ahead of Justin Rose and playing partner Rory McIlroy as he bid to end a five-year victory drought at East Lake, he put on a final round clinic in control golf to claim his long-awaited 80th PGA Tour title by two shots from Billy Horschel on 11 under par despite closing with a one-over 71.

McIlroy shot a forgettable 74 to finish six behind in a share of seventh but understood the significance of the moment, falling into a warm embrace with his boyhood idol on the 18th, where the crowd had been allowed to surge into the fairway to witness the final moments.

It was the culmination of a truly momentous win for the Californian (42),  less than 18 months after undergoing last-ditch spinal fusion surgery to treat a chronic back problem that left him fearing he would ever play again.

Written off by most, few would now bet against him beating Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins or adding to his haul of 14 Major wins before he retires.

Rose had to make a clutch birdie at the 18th to clinch the FedEx Cup and deny Woods the $10 million bonus but not the $1.62 million winner’s cheque, finishing tied for fourth on six-under after a three-over 73 as Dustin Johnson’s 67 to finish third helped him regain the world number one spot.

“It was just grind out there and I loved every bit of it, ” Woods said after tapping in from six inches for victory. “The fight and the grind, the tough conditions, I just loved every bit of it.”

On his epic journey from near invalid to Tour Championship victory, he added: “At the beginning of the year it was a tall order, but as the year progressed and I proved that I could play, I found a swing and put pieces together, and I knew that I could do it again. I was having a hard time not crying on that last hole.”

Speaking at the presentation where he received the FedExCup trophy and a copy of Bobby Jones ‘Calamity Jane’ putter, he added: “When Rory was tapping out, all of a sudden it was hitting me that I was going to win the tournament and I started tearing up a little bit.

“That’s why I knelt down behind the ball, thinking, ‘Come on, I have to get back to work here’. I just can’t believe I have pulled this off after the season I’ve gone through.”


Pausing to gather his emotions, he added: “It’s been tough. I have had it not so easy the last couple of years. I have worked my way back and I couldn’t have done it without everyone around me.

“Some of the players I saw on the 18th green afterwards and knew what I was struggling with, it was really special to see them there.

“It’s just hard to believe I’ve won the Tour Championship.”

Rose salvaged some pride by claiming the FedEx Cup with a gutsy closing birdie but it was a chastening experience for McIlroy, who was playing in a final group for the fifth time this season and struggled to remember his lines.

Having failed to come from behind to win the Dubai Desert Classic, the Masters or the WGC Bridgestone Invitational or to beat Francesco Molinari when tied for the lead in the BMW PGA at Wentworth, this was an opportunity to make a statement.

He knew he would need his A game to put pressure on Woods at a tough East Lake, where excellence is rewarded and mediocrity severely punished.

But in attempting to put pressure on Woods with booming drives, he only succeeded in putting himself in trouble and when Woods drew first blood, rolling in a ten footer for birdie at the first to extend his lead to four, he was almost out for the count.

The killer blow came as early as the fourth, where McIlroy missed for par from 13 feet and Woods mercilessly holed from 11 feet to move five ahead.

It was game over for McIlroy from that point, and he duly took three with the putter from the front edge of the fifth to drop another shot, then followed a rare gain at the par-five sixth with a double-bogey six at the seventh, where he carved another driver 40 yards right into the trees.

He bogeyed the eighth as well, finding more Bermuda rough as Woods simply focused on hitting fairways and greens.

Out in one-under 34, the 14-time Major winner found himself was five clear of Rose, who turned in one over, and eight better than McIlroy who turned in 39 and would eventually hit just three of 14 fairways.

Woods could even afford to bogey the 10th and walk to the 11th tee like a conquering hero with fans packed 15-deep along every hole at the Atlanta venue.

He got that shot back by ramming in a 13 footer at the 13th and while he would bogey the 15th and 16th, he made a key par save at the 17th before closing out victory at the last.

Paul McGinley summed up Woods’ greatness on Twitter, writing: “Great credit to Tiger – the way he played the first hole was like a boxer delivering a sucker punch in the first round!!

“After that, he had the aura and edge. Great for golf and a great lead into next week’s golf.”

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