The outcome of the 2018 Tour Championship was never in doubt on Sunday as Tiger Woods picked up his first victory since 2013 by rolling to a final-round 71 and two-stroke win over Billy Horschel. Woods' 80th PGA Tour win was never in doubt during Round 4 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta as he entered up three strokes on the field and saw his lead balloon to five at the turn.
Though Woods did capture the Tour Championship on Sunday and, it was actually Justin Rose, the No. 1 golfer in the world, who picked up the 2018 FedEx Cup crown and the $10 million that goes with it. Rose birdied the 18th hole to finish tied for fourth at 6 under; if he had finished one stroke further back of Woods, Tiger would have won both trophies in Atlanta.
The Tour Championship may have been over before the final round even started as Woods strutted onto the premises wearing a backwards hat and sleeveless shirt with his biceps popping, It felt inevitable at that point, with Woods having been a perfect 23 for 23 closing out PGA Tour events that he led by 3+ strokes through 54 holes, that he would touch off what had already been an amazing season for him to this point. Make that 24 for 24.
And then he touched it off. It got rolling early at the par-4 first hole where Tiger hit his 160-yard approach shot to 10 feet and walked in the birdie for a four-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The tournament tipped toward Tiger at that moment. Woods, even playing at age 42 after four back surgeries, isn't going to blow many four-stroke leads with 17 holes to go.
Woods shot a 1-under 34 on the front nine and maintained a five-stroke lead over Rose heading to the back side of the course. It was "How To Protect a Lead 101" from the man who invented the class. Then on the back nine, it was more of the same. Woods pounded fairways and greens and not worrying about shooting a score, only about protecting a trophy. It was as spectacular as it was boring, as nostalgic as it was mundane.
The ultimate dagger came at the par-4 13th where Woods hit his second birdie of the day and went up five over Billy Horschel, who won this event and the FedEx Cup exactly four years ago. It was probably already in the bag at that point, but that one was for good measure. From there Woods faded a bit with sloppy bogeys on two of the final four holes (and a near disaster on the par-3 15th when he nearly hit it in the water), but the lead was big enough that it didn't matter..
It was the archetype for a Tiger Woods victory. He went out over the first three days in 65-68-65 and played far more defense than the hometown Falcons did on Sunday. There was nothing showy about what Woods did in the final round at East Lake, and there didn't need to be. A loaded leaderboard fell apart, and Woods cruised into the clubhouse with as easy a win as anyone's had this season. On one hand, it was astonishing. On the other, it felt like 2008 (or 2004 or 2013 or 2001).
The end result was Woods' first win since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2013. That's 1,876 days, if you're scoring at home. Woods played in 41 PGA Tour events between that victory and this one. It's his 80th PGA Tour win overall, which moves him to within two of Sam Snead's all-time record of 82. It might also be the most meaningful victory of his career.
"To kind of get to the 80 mark is a big number," said Woods. "Sam is still ahead of me. I've still got, I feel like, a chance to play some more golf and maybe I'll keep chipping away at that number and maybe surpass it. But I just think that what I've gone through and what I've dealt with, I've gotten lucky, to be honest with you. I've gotten very lucky. I'm not playing a full contact sport or I've got to move people around in that regard. At 42 years old with a fused lower spine, that's not going to happen.
"But in this sport, it can. I'm lucky to have the opportunity to have the people around me to have supported me and worked through this process with me, and I've ground out a chance to win golf tournaments again."
There are a lot of great Tiger wins to choose from, of course, and this wasn't a major or anything close to it. But for what Woods put his body through over the previous five years and how much his game has evolved even just inside of this season, it was certainly as special and unique a win as he's had in his career.
"Certainly, this is going to be up there as one of my better accomplishments I've had [if I win]," Woods told NBC. "Just considering where I've been, what I've had to dig through and fight through and the amount of help I've had to have to get myself to this point. My body was a wreck."
Woods body was a wreck, no doubt, and a last-ditch spinal fusion surgery in April 2017 seemed like a hopeful salve at best. Thus far it has stuck, though, and Woods leveraged a rejuvenated body and fresh swing into a season I'm not sure anyone could have imagined -- Woods himself included -- at the start of the year.
It was a season that, for Woods anyway, included some outrageous highs (leading The Open Championship on Sunday, that final putt at the PGA Championship) and fewer of the valleys than he's experienced in the last five seasons. He's repeatedly said that just making to East Lake with this final 30 was a victory. Now he's got an actual win to tuck away and point to as the ultimate capper to what has been a pretty spectacular 2018 for golf, its fans and -- most of all -- Tiger Woods.
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