Tiger Woods started the ZOZO Championship in Japan with three consecutive bogeys. Many people would have written him off, but they would have been wrong. Just like any time Woods has been written off before.
Monday morning in Japan marked Woods’ 82nd career PGA Tour victory, tied for the most all-time with Sam Snead. And it seems like he’s just going to keep going.
There was a photo circulating social media Sunday night showing a young Woods, sipping a Coke and standing next to a seated Snead. He has childhood innocence about his look, but you can almost tell he knows the man he’s standing next to and he knows of that man’s accomplishments.
Even then, it was time to get to work.
Woods admitted his Masters victory in April took a lot out of him. He had a pedestrian summer. He was hurt, had surgery — again — and came into last week in Japan with more questions than answers.
It’s been a common theme for Woods over the past decade. In 2013, he named was Player of the Year after winning five times. But then he went away again — battling personal demons and his body.
Father Time remains undefeated, but Sunday Tiger Woods and Roger Federer both won tournaments. Tom Brady, at 42, led his New England Patriots to a win over the Cleveland Browns to start to the season 8–0.
They’ve managed to put Father Time on the ropes, at least.
Woods came back with a vengeance in 2017–18, winning the Tour Championship and finishing seventh in earnings. Then he won the 2019 Masters in what was the most emotional and impactful victory, perhaps ever, in the sport.
Had Woods withdrew this week or decided not to play after going through another surgery and preparing to captain the U.S. side at the Presidents Cup in a few months, no one would have judged him. The Masters could have been the lasting memory from 2019 and that would have been it.
“I didn’t really know if I’d come back and play at this level. To get down and read putts again is something I haven’t been able to do in months,” Woods said Sunday night, almost nonchalantly. But think about the magnitude of the situation. This was Woods saying that, at 43, he very recently wasn’t able to bend over to read a putt. “This one has obviously been the most challenging,” said Woods of his latest return to action.
He wanted to have the surgery last season, but was on a roll after winning the Tour Championship. So he played hurt, as he has done in the past. And while he said that physically he has been grinding to return, there have been lots of mental hurdles as well. This past week, he said, being in the lead for the better part of five days caused him a lot of stress. It wasn’t easy to handle, he admitted.
Woods, now very self-aware of his age, was asked about both the Presidents Cup and the Olympics — the latter is in Japan in 2020. It now seems like a forgone conclusion that Woods will choose himself as part of the Presidents Cup team. The Olympics, he said, is something he hopes to qualify for to represent his country.
“I don’t know if I’ll have many more chances after that,” said Woods.
It seems, though, Woods just needs a chance in order to keep chipping away at some of golf’s biggest milestones.
Only two golfers have won three of their past 14 PGA Tour starts — Woods and Rory McIlroy, who was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year for 2019. Three victories is a career for some guys. It’s barely a year for Woods. We shouldn’t be surprised, however, that Woods has been able to do all this. He was born to win.
So, sure, it was an odd way to finish out the week for Tiger Woods. He couldn’t have been further away from his home in Florida. His typical Sunday red was worn on a Monday and covered in a black vest. He played in front of just 3,000 fans after a typhoon washed out all of Saturday’s play.
But one thing that wasn’t odd, not even in the slightest, is that when Woods has a lead of three shots with just seven holes left, he’s going to win.
And he’s not finished yet.