Tiger Woods wins.
Honestly, when he began playing again this season following the medical Hail Mary of spinal fusion surgery, I never thought I’d be typing those three words. Much less seeing him win while turning East Lake into one great green mosh pit.
Underestimating Woods, you see, is a fool’s prerogative.
His wire-to-wire win at the Tour Championship was almost too easy considering all the trauma that preceded it. You’d think that once he broke through for his 80th victory after five years in competitive purgatory, there’d have been some kind of dramatic crescendo. This movie was supposed to end with a long eagle putt on No. 18 for a one-shot victory, followed by Woods racing past the trophy presenters in order to save orphaned twins from a burning clubhouse.
Not a relative day-long cruise in which no one got within two shots of him. It was as if nobody wanted to be the one to get in the way of a bigger story than himself.
Now comes the task of putting this victory in context, of filing it away among the 79 others in order of importance. Some might try to claim that Woods did all the hard work by rehabbing from major spinal surgery and rebuilding his game from the ground up and beating back the grumbles of skeptics. But, hey, trying to rank this day is tough duty, too. There are just so many peaks along this particular mountain range.
No matter what you may think of Woods the man – and his flaws have been as obvious and blinding as the sunrise – his place in golf is inarguable. Only he could have created a ruckus like the one at East Lake Sunday.
To have him back and turning golf into a rave is, “I was going to say it’s immeasurable,” said English pro Paul Casey. “But you can kind of measure that. You can see it’s pretty obvious what he does.”
“This is quite important, isn’t it?” Casey mused Sunday.
“This,” he said, “is a brilliant victory.”
I can’t place it ahead of his 1997 breakthrough win at the Masters, when the 21-year-old Woods lapped the field and altered the very sociology of his game. But after that, for all his other 13 majors and his singular, smashing triumphs, it is difficult to find a more impressive win than this one. Those others were almost expected. This one came from despairing depths.
“The low point,” said Woods, recalling the worst of his back troubles, “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 I was in? I just didn’t want to live that way.
“I was beyond playing.”
When the man was asked himself to compare this moment to his vast catalog of highlights – probably the best source, wouldn’t you say – Woods wasn’t specific. But he unmistakably ranks it high.
“This is certainly up there will all the major championships I’ve won, the Players Championships, the World Golf Championships. But this is under different circumstances. I just didn’t know when this would ever happen again.
“If I could somehow piece together a golf swing this year, I felt like I could do it. My hands are good enough and I just didn’t know if I could piece together a golf swing. But somehow, I’ve been able to do that, and here we are.”
OK, now that Woods has had the better part of an evening to enjoy a milestone victory let’s move on to the next question:
Is he capable of spring-boarding from here and at the age of 43 next year win another major championship, adding to his collection of 14?
All along this comeback trail I’ve said no, that’s ridiculous.
But we see just how wrong such thinking can be.