CHIBA, Japan – How many times have we written off Tiger Woods?
How many times has someone chiseled an epitaph on his headstone, shoveled dirt on him, kicked him to the curb?
“Tiger’s done,” it’s been said over and over. Even Woods thought his career was over in 2017 and said so to fellow green jacket winners at the Champions Dinner at the Masters that year.
Well, it’s going to be awhile before we cast him aside once again.
In his latest resurrection, Woods won the inaugural, storm-delayed Zozo Championship at Accordia Narashino Country Club 11 weeks after last playing and two months after having surgery for the fifth time on his troublesome left knee.
No one saw this coming, but then, we should know by now never to doubt the guy. Even after his chances seemed to vanish with three bogeys to start the tournament, Woods rose like a phoenix in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Looking confident, relaxed and sound, Woods led the field with 28 birdies and shot 64-64-66-67 to top Hideki Matsuyama by three shots for his 82nd PGA Tour title, tying him with Sam Snead for most in history. Snead was 52 when he last won in 1965.
Thus, 23 years after his first victory in the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational, and four back surgeries, five knee operations and numerous other ailments later, Woods stunned the golf world and got the last laugh yet again.
“It’s satisfying to dig my way out of it and figure out a way,” Woods, 43, said of his many comebacks. “There were some hard times trying to figure it out, but I’ve come back with different games over the years, moving patterns, and this one’s been obviously the most challenging.
“Then having another procedure a couple months ago and again coming back and winning an event, not easy to do.”
But he’s done it numerous times. After spinal fusion surgery. After a public scandal. After a DUI. After treatment for substance abuse. After playing just four times in 2016-17.
“Ultimately, there were times it looked like Tiger wouldn’t be able to go out on his own terms, and that’s not how he wanted his career to end,” said Rob McNamara, vice president of TGR Ventures, who plays many rounds with Woods and has become a second set of eyes for his friend to count on when it comes to his swing. “To have his career basically snatched from him didn’t sit well. He wants to decide when enough is enough.”
Well, Woods hasn’t gotten enough yet. As his agent, Mark Steinberg, said to him on the 18th green, “You never cease to amaze me.” Added Gary Woodland, who played the final 36 holes with Woods, “He looked like the best player in the world.”
He certainly didn’t look like the old man we saw this summer, when his wounded knee led to back, neck and oblique issues. Retirement chatter started up again as Woods missed cuts in the PGA Championship and British Open.
His 2018-19 season ended one week shy of the Tour Championship. Then came news of his fifth knee surgery. Surely, his time as one of the best players in the world was over.
He proved us wrong for the umpteenth time.
Instead of the old man from the summer, we saw the man who conquered Augusta National in April when he won his fifth green jacket and 15th major.
“If he’s healthy, he’s going to be all right,” said Joe LaCava, Woods’ caddie. “And once he gets that confidence up, he’s tough to beat.”
Woods has won three of his last 14 starts on the PGA Tour. In his quest to get No. 83, Woods’ next start on the Tour likely will be in the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he’s won eight times, including the 2008 U.S. Open.
Before that, he’ll play and host the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
And a week after that, he’ll be in Australia as the captain for the U.S. squad in the Presidents Cup. Well, make that playing-captain. Woods has four discretionary picks to fill out his roster and one has to be used on himself.
“As a player, I got the captain’s attention,” he said.
He got everyone’s attention.
“I didn’t know if I would ever play again,” Woods said. “I was just hoping to be able to walk normal again. To be able to go through all that to get to where I’m at now, I’m very appreciative. I know how it feels to have this game, you know, what I felt like, taken away from me, where I couldn’t participate in the way that I wanted to. Just so happy and so fortunate to be able to have this opportunity again.
“This week was a good sign for the future. Certainly the future looks brighter than it has and hopefully I can be as consistent as (Snead) was well into my 40s and early 50s.”
You want to doubt him?