VIC­TORY AT LAST

Tour Cham­pi­onship is Tiger Woods’ first win since 2013

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Doug Fer­gu­son

A come­back not even Tiger Woods saw com­ing a year ago.

A chaotic cel­e­bra­tion that golf hasn’t seen even in the best of times.

Woods de­liv­ered the per­fect end­ing to his amaz­ing re­turn from four back surg­eries on Sun­day with a per­for­mance that felt like the old days. He left the com­pe­ti­tion feel­ing hope­less as he built a five-shot lead early and hung on to win the Tour Cham­pi­onship.

Woods raised both arms over his head af­ter he tapped in for par and a 1-over 71 for a two-shot vic­tory over Billy Horschel, the 80th vic­tory of his PGA Tour ca­reer and his first in more than five years.

“It was a grind out there,” Woods said. “I loved ev­ery bit of it.”

It felt like a coro­na­tion com­ing down the 18th green af­ter he hit his sec­ond shot to the par 5 safely in a bunker in front of the green. The crowd came through the ropes and walked be­hind him, just like that walk from the left side of the 18th fair­way when he won the Masters in 1997, and when the

enor­mous gallery of Chicago fol­lowed af­ter him when he won the West­ern Open that sum­mer.

They chased af­ter any inch of grass they could find to watch the end­ing.

This felt just as big as a ma­jor, maybe bet­ter con­sid­er­ing where Woods had been.

“I didn’t want to get run over,” Woods said with a laugh.

Only when he was on the green, the last to putt af­ter Rory McIl­roy tapped in for birdie, did it start to sink in.

“All of a sud­den it hit me that I was go­ing to win the tour­na­ment. I started tear­ing up a lit­tle bit,” Woods said. “I can’t be­lieve I pulled this off.”

He paused as his voice started to crack.

More roars. Sev­eral play­ers, from Zach John­son to Rickie Fowler to Horschel, waited to greet him. It was John­son who un­veiled red shirts at the Ry­der Cup two years ago in the team room that said, “Make Tiger Great Again.”

“They knew what I was strug­gling with,” Woods said. “It was spe­cial to see them.”

One year ago, Woods was still wait­ing for his lower back to fuse and wasn’t sure he could ever play again.

He told sto­ries of be­ing un­able to get off the couch to watch his kids play soc­cer, much less to chip and putt. He said af­ter the sec­ond and third back surg­eries in the lat­ter end of 2015 that he al­ready has achieved plenty in golf and any­thing else would be “gravy.”

He was be­com­ing a le­gend only in video high­lights.

Woods brought it all to life over four days at East Lake, and the play­ers who have taken turns at No. 1 dur­ing his ab­sence caught the full brunt of it. McIl­roy faded early. Justin Rose faded late.

All that was left was the 42-year-old Woods in that Sun­day red shirt blaz­ing brighter than ever and a smile he couldn’t shake walk­ing up to col­lect an­other tro­phy.

He fin­ished at 11-un­der 269 and won $1.62 mil­lion, along with a $3 mil­lion bonus for fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the FedEx Cup.

The only dis­ap­point­ment — a mi­nor one un­der the cir­cum­stances — was re­al­iz­ing as he came down the 18th that Rose had made birdie to fin­ish in a three-way tie for fourth, which gave him the FedEx Cup and the $10 mil­lion bonus.

With­out that birdie, Woods would have won his third FedEx Cup ti­tle af­ter start­ing at No. 20 go­ing into the Tour Cham­pi­onship.

“Con­grats, Rosie,” Woods told him. “World No. 1, hell of a sea­son.”

Ac­tu­ally, for­mer world No. 1 for Rose. His four bo­geys over the last 10 holes cost him the No. 1 rank­ing back to Dustin John­son, who shot 67 and fin­ished third.

But this wasn’t about the FedEx Cup or even the world rank­ing.

This was Tiger’s big day, and noth­ing was go­ing to change it.

No one brings ex­cite­ment like Woods, even when he plays so well and so smart that he elim­i­nates any po­ten­tial for drama.

A year ago, there was no guar­an­tee any­one would see much of Woods, much less Woods win­ning.

He’s back again. Not bad for a 42-year-old who re­turned to com­pe­ti­tion in De­cem­ber at No. 1,199.

TIM BRAD­BURY / GETTY IM­AGES

Tiger Woods cel­e­brates mak­ing a par on the 18th green to win the Tour Cham­pi­onship at East Lake Golf Club on Sun­day in At­lanta. “I can’t be­lieve I pulled this off,” he said.

KEVIN C. COX / GETTY IM­AGES

FedEx Cup cham­pion Justin Rose of Eng­land and Tour Cham­pi­onship win­ner Tiger Woods cel­e­brate af­ter their vic­to­ries.

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