2018 Tour Championship: Despite 79 PGA Tour wins, there's a lot at stake on Sunday for Tiger Woods

The question Tiger Woods has (and all of us have) been asked so many times over the past five years might finally get a definitive answer on Sunday afternoon at East Lake Golf Club. Will Tiger ever win another golf tournament? I've answered it a thousand times. Woods probably 10 times that. 

We're now 18 holes from it happening. Woods leads the 2018 Tour Championship by three over Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, and he's poised for his fist victory since taking the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Tiger put himself in position at East Lake (and into the final pairing with McIlroy) with a smoking 65-68-65 start in which he leads the field in putting and nearly leads it from tee to green, too.

Tiger's statistical profile in 2018 says he actually should have won already -- everyone in the top seven in strokes gained on the PGA Tour has at least one win -- so it would be fitting that Woods would close the circle at the very last event on the PGA Tour calendar. 

It would also be an appropriate close to what has been a pretty incredible year, both for golf and for Tiger. Let's walk back through the timeline.

  • April 20, 2017: Woods has spinal fusion on back, his fourth back surgery.
  • Aug. 31, 2017: Woods gets the OK to start chipping again.
  • Oct. 7, 2017: Woods tweets a video of himself hitting irons.
  • Oct. 15, 2017: Woods tweets a video of himself hitting drivers.
  • December 2017: Woods plays in the Hero World Challenge.
  • January 2018: Woods plays in the Farmers Insurance Open and shoots 72 in Round 1.
  • March 2018: Woods posts first top 10 of the year at Valspar Championship.
  • July 2018: Woods posts first top 10 at a major at The Open.

It's been a quick run at the end of what has felt like a lengthy comeback full of a myriad stops and starts. On Saturday at East Lake after his 65 in Round 3, Woods noted that he didn't even really feel like he had his swing at the Valspar in the same way he does now.

" ... in March, I didn't really have a golf swing yet," Woods said. "I was still trying to figure out how to play."

I think he's got that part down, and now he'll go for PGA Tour win No. 80 on Sunday against the golfer some presumed would take Woods' throne in his absence (as much as such a throne can be taken).

"Yeah, it's going to be fun," Woodssaid. "We haven't done that that much of late because I've not been there. He has been there, and he's won a bunch of tournaments. So it's nice for us to go back out and play against one another, be in the mix."

Woods is 42-of-44 overall when leading after 54 holes, but undefeated when leading by three or more strokes as he will be on Sunday. He really only has two competitors between McIlroy and Rose, too. Everyone else is at least six strokes back of Woods' 12 under number.

"It feels great to have worked my way into this spot," Woods said. "You know, this has been a difficult setup. It's a golf course that's very easy to make bogeys, and it's difficult to make birdies. I would love to be able to win this event. I've got a three-shot lead. I've got a bunch of guys behind me that have been playing well and are playing well, and we'll see what happens tomorrow."

As for how he'll feel tomorrow trying to hold off two of Europe's 12 Ryder Cup members, nerves don't figure to be a factor. That seems an obvious thing, but it's been a long, long time since Woods slept on a lead after dominating in the way that he has this week.

"I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year," Woods said. "And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill [and] when I grabbed the lead at the Open Championship. Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots. I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory -- I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots."

As for McIlroy, he'll try to not get caught up in it too much. To stay in his lane and continue being (by far) the best driver of the golf ball in this field and just hope a couple of the putts fall early.

"Again, not looking around," McIlroy said of what's key on Sunday. "Just focusing on myself. I've been guilty of looking around before, and it hasn't paid off. ... I'll obviously still watch leaderboards, I'll still look at where I'm at in relation to the field and to the lead, but I ... have to just first and foremost focus on what I can do. Fairways, greens, hit good putts, and just try and repeat that."

Sunday seems like it's going to be special no matter what happens. A monstrous McIlroy comeback to defeat his childhood idol in just their second final round together. Rose taking the tournament as well as the FedEx Cup over his pal Woods. Or Tiger, after so many slogging, laborious hours of work, finally getting his 80th victory on the PGA Tour. To prove to himself (and to everyone) that after five years, yes, he does still have inside of him whatever it is that makes you a winner at the highest level of golf. No matter how it goes down, we're likely going to call it the perfect end to what has been a dream season.

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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