THE RE­TURN OF TIGER

Woods earns first win in 5 years

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL NEWBERRY

AT­LANTA They waited more than five years for this mo­ment.

No way were those frail lit­tle ropes, strung up on flimsy poles, go­ing to hold them back.

No way were they lis­ten­ing to those red-shirted mar­shals, a bit of ter­ror in their eyes as they pleaded fu­tilely for ev­ery­one to come to their senses.

They had to feel it, touch it, see it with their own eyes.

Maybe that was the only way to per­suade them­selves that this most re­mark­able of come­backs had hap­pened.

Tiger Woods.

A win­ner again.

The staid ol’ Tour Cham­pi­onship be­came a bois­ter­ous street party late Sun­day af­ter­noon, the fans storm­ing down the mid­dle of the 18th fair­way like a bunch of crazed col­lege kids lay­ing siege to a foot­ball field af­ter a last-sec­ond vic­tory.

“Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” they chanted over and over, look­ing very much like they may storm the Tu­dor-style club­house, the roar car­ry­ing all the way to Peachtree.

He left the com­pe­ti­tion feel­ing hope­less as he built a five-shot lead early and then hung on for a 1-over 71 and a two-shot vic­tory over Billy Horschel.

It was the 80th PGA Tour vic­tory of his ca­reer, two short of the record held by Sam Snead that is now very much in play. And it was his first vic­tory in more than five years, dat­ing to the 2013 Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional.

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

“From one goat (great­est of all time) to an­other I can only imag­ine what @TigerWoods is feel­ing to­day,” tweeted Michael Phelps, the win­ningest ath­lete in Olympic his­tory. “Pumped to be watch­ing this to­day!! Have fun out there to­day my man!!!”

De­spite an in­flux of ta­lented young play­ers in re­cent years, golf just hasn’t been the same since Woods went away, his bril­liant ca­reer de­railed by de­bil­i­tat­ing in­juries and per­sonal demons.

As NBC an­a­lyst Roger Malt­bie put it, “He doesn’t just move the nee­dle, he is the nee­dle.”

But that nee­dle looked bro­ken be­yond re­pair as days with­out a win grew to months, the months with­out a win grew to years. It had been 1,876 days since his last vic­tory, and even Woods had moved on from the idea of ever win­ning an­other golf tour­na­ment.

He was more con­cerned about his qual­ity of life.

“The low point was not know­ing if I’d ever be able to live pain-free again,” Woods said.

“Am I go­ing to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down with­out feel­ing the pain that I was in? I just didn’t want to live that way. Is this how the rest of my life is go­ing to be? (If so), it’s go­ing to be a tough rest of my life. 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.”

On April 19, 2017, he had surgery for the fourth time, this time to fuse his lower back. About six weeks later, he was ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of DUI af­ter be­ing found asleep be­hind the wheel of his car with the mo­tor run­ning.

Woods blamed it on a bad com­bi­na­tion of pain med­i­ca­tions. Ev­ery­one fig­ured he got hooked on drugs as a way of cop­ing with a body that never stopped hurt­ing. The idea of play­ing com­pet­i­tive golf again — much less win­ning — seemed down­right lu­di­crous. Then, mirac­u­lously, the dark cloud lifted.

Woods got him­self cleaned up. The pain went away. Just four months af­ter re­port­ing he couldn’t hit the ball more than 60 yards, Woods re­joined the PGA Tour and made the cut in his first event at Tor­rey Pines.

By the time the sum­mer rolled round, he was in the mix at ma­jor cham­pi­onships.

He earned a spot on the U.S. Ry­der Cup team.

He played his way into the fi­nale of the FedEx Cup play­off.

Fi­nally, on a blis­ter­ing fall day in At­lanta, he made it of­fi­cial. The come­back was com­plete. “I just didn’t know whether or when this would ever hap­pen again,” he said. “I just didn’t know if I could ever piece to­gether a golf swing.”

Woods wasn’t fully aware of all the com­mo­tion go­ing on be­hind him as he strolled down the 18th fair­way, chat­ting and smil­ing with play­ing part­ner Rory McIl­roy in the fi­nal group.

When he got up to the green, Woods could fi­nally sur­vey the re­mark­able scene. It re­minded him a bit of Jack Nick­laus win­ning the U.S. Open at Bal­tus­rol in 1980, the crowds in­vad­ing the course as the Golden Bear wrapped up a vic­tory that de­fied skep­tics who thought he was all washed up at age 40.

“Jack Is Back,” the score­board fa­mously pro­claimed.

“I just didn’t have the tight pants and the hair,” Woods quipped. “But it was all good.

There was no mes­sage on the East Lake leader­board.

This time, the most telling mo­ment came af­ter Woods teed off at the 14th hole, which dis­sects the walk to the tee for No. 17.

His clos­est chal­lenger, Billy Horschel, was head­ing that way. He saw Woods com­ing. He stopped to let him pass. It only seemed right. Tiger Woods is back.

And golf is bet­ter for it.

The low point was not know­ing if I’d ever be able to live pain-free again.

HYOSUB SHIN/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Tiger Woods cel­e­brates af­ter mak­ing his putt for par on the 18th green to win the Tour Cham­pi­onship on Sun­day in At­lanta, his first PGA vic­tory in more than five years.

JOHN AMIS/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Tiger Woods emerges from a horde of fans who rushed the 18th hole in ex­cite­ment to watch Woods cap­ture his 80th ca­reer vic­tory on the PGA Tour, just two short of the record.

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