Even the man himself is stunned. Understandably so. Tiger Woods, after all, feared he’d never play again, far less win, due to his chronic back injuries and this, remember, is the individual who once teed up in every single event he played, believing that he could register what he liked to describe as a “W”.
“It means a lot more to me now in the sense because I didn’t know if I’d ever be out here again playing – doing this again,” admitted Woods as he savoured his astonishing success in the Tour Championship in Atlanta – his 80th PGA Tour title triumph but first victory since 2013. “I don’t know, 20 years ago, hell, I thought I was going to play for another 30 years. That’s just the way golf is. You can play until you’re 70 years old. You see these guys on the Champions Tour playing tournament golf at 70.
“Then there was a point in time I didn’t know if I’d ever do this again. So, yeah, I appreciate it a little bit more than I did because I don’t take it for granted that I’m going to have another decade, two decades in my future of playing golf at this level.”
Woods underwent his third back procedure in 19 months in April 2017 in a bid to cure pain in his back and leg. At that point, he feared he may never be able to play golf again. Indeed, almost exactly a year ago, on the eve of the Presidents Cup, the 14-time major winner hinted his career was indeed under threat.
A few months before that, one of the most recognised sporting figures on the planet was named and shamed after being arrested for driving under the influence of prescription medicines.
Even when Woods made his latest comeback in his own event, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last December, it seemed a forlorn hope that he would regain his old form but, lo and behold, the last nine months have produced an incredible sporting story. Some might even say it’s been a miracle.
The former world No 1 had been knocking on the door. In the Open Championship at Carnoustie in July, he led the battle for the Claret Jug with eight holes to play before losing out to Francesco Molinari. He then finished second to Brooks Koepka in the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol. Now Woods is the favourite to win next year’s Masters after producing a polished performance to claim a two-shot success in the PGA Tour’s season-ending event at East Lake in Atlanta on Sunday.
“Probably the low point was not knowing if I’d ever be able to live pain-free again; am I going to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down without feeling the pain that I was in,” said Woods, who now turns his attention to trying to help the US defend the Ryder Cup in France this week, in recalling his path from fearing he might never be able to hit a ball competively again to returning to the winner’s circle.
“I just didn’t want to live that way. This is how the rest of my life is going to be? It’s going to be a tough rest of my life. And so, I was beyond playing. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg. That was a pretty low point for a very long time.
“So just to be able to compete and play again this year, that’s a hell of a comeback. Some of the people that are very close to me, they’ve seen what I’ve gone through. Some of the players have seen what I’ve gone through, and they know how hard it was just to get back to playing golf again.
“Forget the elite level, just be able to play golf again and enjoy being with my kids and living that life. And then lo and behold, I’m able to do this and win a golf tournament. To be able to compete and play again, yes. To win, that’s another level. I’m just enjoying being able to do this again. I didn’t know I was going to do this again.”
Due to a combination of the personal problems he had coupled with those back issues, Woods has been stuck on 14 major wins since 2008, but, after watching the way he has played this year, Jack Nicklaus reckons there is a distinct possibility that his record of 18 major victories could be under threat again from his compatriot.
“Maybe Tiger’s got another 40 majors to play. Out of 40 majors can he win five of them?” said Nicklaus in the wake of Woods, who’d started the final day with a three-shot lead, starting with a birdie and never really being threatened by the likes of playing partner Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. “He’s playing well enough. It depends how much he wants to work at it, how interested he is, how long he wants to make a commitment to do that.
“With today’s equipment, and the way the guys take care of themselves, I think they could play well into their 50s. I’m proud of him. He’s worked very hard to get his golf game back. He even worked really hard to get the five inches between his head thinking the right way again.”