Tiger Completes Fairytale Comeback with Victory in Tour Championship

By: | Mon 24 Sep 2018 | Comments


HE ONLY went and did it. Tiger Woods completed one of the greatest individual comebacks in sport when he produced a final round of 71 to win The Tour Championship at East Lake, his first victory in five years and surely the most satisfying of his remarkable career. It was Woods’ 80th PGA Tour victory and was worth $1.6m, but it surely meant more to him than almost any other. Less than 12 months ago he was ranked 1,199th in the world after undergoing spinal fusion surgery.

His last major victory came at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, when he defeated Rocco Mediate over 91 holes and then revealed that he had done while playing with a broken leg. Of all his triumphs, that was surely the most outstanding, the most unforgettable. Until now. There may be those who point to the fact that this tournament had a field comprising just 30 players but they were the cream, the men who throughout the year had proved themselves to be the very best on the PGA Tour. They also included almost the entire American Ryder Cup team and the nucleus of Europe’s side - and Woods defeated them all.

While Woods was celebrating his victory, England's world number one Justin Rose finished tied fourth to secure the overall FedEx Cup, worth an incredible $10m. Rose birdied the 18th at East Lake for a 73 to seal the top-five finish he needed to become FexEx Cup champion.

"I had a hard time not crying on the last hole," Woods tsaid. "I had to suck it up and hit some shots. Once I got the ball on the green, it was done. I could handle it from there."

The 14-time major champion's last tournament victory was in August 2013 in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. "It was just a grind out there," Woods added. "I loved every bit of it, the fight, the grind and the tough conditions. At the beginning of the year, it was a tall order but as the year progressed and I proved I could play, I knew I could do it again."

He came into the final day of the tournament - the last of four FedEx Cup play-off events - with a three-shot lead over Rose and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who faded from contention with a 74 to finish on five under in tied seventh. Woods birdied his first hole - one of two birdies and three bogeys - and was never really threatened for the lead. Fellow American Billy Horschel finished two shots back on nine under.

"I just can't believe I pulled this off after what I've gone through," added an emotional Woods. "It's been tough. I've had a not-so-easy last couple of years. I've worked my way back. I couldn't have done it without the help of all the people around me. Some of the other players knew what I was struggling with. It was really special to see them at the green on 18. It's just hard to believe I won the Tour Championship.”

The win means he is now two short of Sam Snead's all-time PGA Tour record of 82. It comes less than a year since the 14-time major champion said he may never play tournament golf again. He only returned to competitive golf in December 2017 and admitted he had no idea if his back would stand up to it. Woods missed the cut in his second event but his play quickly improved. He briefly led The Open at Carnoustie during the final round and finished second behind Brooks Koepka at the US PGA Championship.

"All year long he's looked like winning," said Rose. "He's played some great golf and he's looked world class again. It was just a matter of time and I'm so happy for him."

Rose entered the FedEx Cup play-offs fourth in the points list behind Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Koepka. After missing the cut at the opening Northern Trust tournament, he finished second in both the Dell Technologies Championship and the BMW Championship. Rose, Tony Finau, Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, defending champion Thomas and Woods all came into the Tour Championship with a chance to win the FedEx Cup bonus with a victory at East Lake.

With Woods looking certain to win the tournament, a top-five finish for Rose was going to be enough for the world number one to claim the overall title. However, bogeys on the 11th, 14th and 16th saw Rose slip out of the top five and Woods was set to secure the FedEx Cup in addition to the Tour Championship. Rose needed a birdie on the par-five 18th to finish joint fourth with Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and claim the title.

"I was waiting for a break all day and to get it on the last hole was great timing," said Rose. "I felt more pressure as I was throwing it away. It was a horrible scenario but fortunately I clicked into gear at the right time. Today is going to take a lot of absorbing but I can't wait to go over to Paris [venue for the Ryder Cup]."

When in his prime, his fellow players may well have been in awe of Woods, but he was not a popular individual. That has changed. He has demonstrated a new-found humility this year as he has taken time to enjoy what he is currently achieving. As a result, he engages far more readily with fans and competitors alike and there was a huge amount of support for him at East Lake. Tommy Fleetwood, who was inspired to take up the game by watching Woods on TV, said: "Everybody watching at home, everybody that was right there when it happened, we have just witnessed the greatest comeback of all time! What a time to be alive.”

And Jack Nicklaus said: "I never dreamed Tiger Woods could come back and swing the way he has, after surgery. I think you could argue he's swinging better than he has ever in his life. He has played fantastically! I think throughout this year some of Tiger Woods' issues were between his ears, as he had to remember how to win again. Tiger has been close, almost there. You knew he was going to win soon, and this week he did it."

EUROPEAN TOUR

WHEN he turned professional in 2011, big things were predicted for Tom Lewis, especially when he won the Portugal Masters in only his third start. The Englishman has struggled for much of the time since then, but he produced a stunning final three rounds to win the same tournament again seven years later at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course.

The Englishman fired an opening 72 to lie nine shots behind first-round leader Lucas Herbert but rounds of 63 and 61 meant he was just two behind the Australian heading into the final round in Vilamoura. He closed out the week with a 66 to finish on 22 under par, three ahead of Herbert and fellow Englishman Eddie Pepperell.

Lewis won has shown some good form on the Challenge Tour in recent weeks, with a victory and a third place. He had to return to qualifying school in 2016 after losing his card but can now relax again. He birdied an astonishing 24 of his final 54 holes to match Li Haotong's season's best at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and went 45 holes without a bogey between the 18th hole on Thursday and the 10th in the final round.

“It's unbelievable,” he said. “I'm so happy, it's been a rough ride but this week I played hard. I obviously got off to a bad start, to finish the way I've been finishing has been brilliant so I'm happy. To be back here in Portugal and play the way I played and to have the crowds we had, I feel great right now. I think this one means more, it means a lot to come and win this again. The next win was always going to mean more because of how much I work for it.

“Hopefully I can do better than I did last time and continue to do what I've been doing with the team that I've got and the support and not ease off the gas and keep pushing forwards. That's what I did this week after a few good weeks recently."

Pepperell hit the pin as he spun his approach into the second to set up a birdie and that was just two back after Herbert bogeyed the second. Lewis holed a long putt on the second to hit top spot and the leading duo were soon three ahead after both hitting excellent approaches into the third.

Pepperell played a nice chip to birdie the par five fifth for the fourth day in a row and get back within two but that was soon three back again as both of the leaders made the most of the same hole. Herbert got a slice of luck when his third hit the pin when it looked certain to race over the green, while Lewis got on in two and two-putted.

Pepperell dropped a shot ahead at the seventh but regained it at the next after a stunning tee-shot to four feet on the eighth. He was four behind when Lewis made an 18-footer on the same hole and while the 27 year old made a first bogey in 46 holes on the tenth, he hit back from ten feet on the 11th.

Pepperell had hit a wonderful approach into the 11th for a birdie and when he made it two in a row from six feet on the par five 12th, he was just two behind. Herbert had made seven pars in a row, holing a string of putts  to keep in touch but he broke that run with another fine stroke from the fringe on the 13th to share the lead. Lewis' tee-shot into the same hole was glorious and he tapped to get his nose back in front but Pepperell was not going anywhere and made the most of the driveable par four 15th to get to 20 under.

Lewis found water off the tee on the 17th and had to hole a  35-foot putt to save par, as a Pepperell bogey on the last made it a two-horse race. Herbert found water off the final tee to release the tension and while the leaderboard tells the tale of a comfortable victory, the golf told a different story.South Korea's Soomin Lee fired a 64 to sit at 17 under alongside Swede Marcus Kinhult, one clear of 2012 champion Shane Lowry.

Sergio Garcia warmed up for the Ryder Cup with a closing 65 to finish at 15 under alongside local favourite Ricardo Gouveia, Frenchman Raphaël Jacquelin, Finn Kim Koivu and England's Oliver Fisher - who will never forget his week after carding the European Tour's first 59 on Friday.


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