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Posted September 24, 2018 in "Watts" In The Bag by Trevor Cigich
By Steve Eubanks of Global Golf Post
This wasn’t Hogan coming back from a car wreck. It wasn’t Peyton Manning coming back from neck surgery or Tommy John coming back from the experimental procedure that now bears his name. It was all of those combined with a dose of Josh Hamilton thrown in.
Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in what is arguably the most improbable and near-impossible comeback in sports history, a rise to the top from a hole so deep many hoped he would just see daylight again. Woods had fallen as low as 1,199th in the world. His back was so out of whack that he went to the ground in his yard and could not get back up. He couldn’t sit, stand, or lay down without pain. And for 1,876 days he didn’t win a golf tournament. Many of those days, he looked like he might never compete again.
When he hit a 292-yard drive into the middle of the first fairway at East Lake on Sunday and followed it up with a perfect cut 8-iron 10 feet from the hole and drained that putt for birdie, it looked like he might run away with this victory.
For most of Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, a Woods win seemed inevitable, which turned out more fans than East Lake had ever seen. The roads surrounding the course looked like a slow-rolling caravan. Lines of cars circled the course as people looked for places to park. Security at the Drew Charter School, one of the success stories of the East Lake Foundation, had to lock the gates to keep fans from parking on the lawn.
Maggie Simonean, a 15-year old high school golfer, stood against the gallery ropes on the first fairway at 10:30 a.m. The first group, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed, didn’t tee off until 11:45. “Will I be able to see Tiger from here? she asked. Three and a half hours later, she could.
Woods’ birdie at the first stretched his lead to four shots. And the crowd reaction harkened back to the days when his playing partner, Rory McIlroy, was entering his first year of middle school. “A couple of guys thought someone holed out (from the fairway) on the first hole,” Woods said. “It was just me making a putt.”
The roars were muted for a few hours after that. A couple of routine, middle-of-the-green pars at Nos. 2 and 3 set the tone for rest of Woods’ round. With a lead that hovered between two shots and five throughout the day, his goal was not to beat himself. “I just wanted to shoot under par,” he said. “This golf course was playing hard enough where it was going to be hard to make birdies. And there were only two guys (McIlroy and Justin Rose, both of whom started the day three back) chasing me at the time.”
He missed his first fairway at No.4 by a single pace. From there he found a greenside bunker, blasted out to 8 feet and made the putt for par.
Much will be made about the control Woods showed with the driver throughout the week.
Gone were the wild, violent tee shots that came off the clubface like cannon shots but could miss fairways by as much as 40 yards. The swing was as controlled as it has ever been., fluid and disciplined, more like a craftsman than a lumberjack. But the key last week was his putter. He was the only man in the field to make 100 feet of putts in each of the first three rounds and his speed was near perfect. The putts he missed died around the hole, leaving him easy tap-ins.
It was certainly a different Tiger Woods who captured his 80th PGA Tour victory. When Woods won his first Tour Championship in 1999, Stuart Appleby was asked what made Tiger so good. “It’s no mystery,” Appleby said. “He has a wedge into every par-4, he hits every par-5 in two and he’s a good putter. Do that and you’re going to win.”
He doesn’t do that anymore. On the first hole, after a terrific tee shot, Woods watched as McIlroy blew a driver 25 yards past him. But Woods walked off the first hole with a birdie to extend his lead. McIlroy shot 74, his worst final-round performance since the Masters.
Those who saw Woods in his prime were accustomed to competitors melting around him. But it was assumed that the new generation would be different, that they wouldn’t fear him or be intimidated in any way. What those players didn’t realize, because they’d never experienced it, was the atmosphere around the Woods victory. Tens of thousands of people yelling, “Go Tiger” and stampeding up and down fairways like buffalo on the Great Plains is distracting at best and intimidating to all but the strongest of men.
The back nine wasn’t as kind to Woods. A bogey at 10 after a tee shot that sailed right into the rough cut the lead to three shots. But he birdied the 13th, walking in a 13-footer that never had a chance of missing. Then he played the difficult 14th beautifully, hitting the fairway for the fourth day in a row and finding the center of the green. The birdie putt barely missed and for a brief moment, it looked like Woods might capture both the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup as all those who had a chance slowly folded.
The only near hiccup came at the 226-yard 15th, East Lake’s signature hole with a peninsula green surrounded on three sides by water. Woods’ 6-iron cleared the water by 20 inches. And while he failed to get up and down for par, it could have been much worse. The bogey kept the lead at three as Billy Horschel, playing several groups ahead, shot 66 to get into the clubhouse at 9 under.
Woods missed the 16th green for the fourth day in a row and made another bogey, which cut his lead to two. He then tugged a tee shot on 17 and hit a wedge over the green. From there he pitched on and made par. “The (par) on 17 was a lot bigger than people think,” Woods said. “At the time I could have dropped down to a one-shot lead playing the last hole. Hit a bad tee shot, pitched out, a lot of things could happen. But a two-shot lead playing a par-5, which I can hit driver-iron into, that’s a totally different ballgame.”
Then something happened that hasn’t been seen in golf since the days of Seve at the Open. After Tiger hit a 325-yard driver on 18 and cut a 5-iron into the greenside bunker, fans flooded the 18th fairway by the thousands. Atlanta police raced to restore order but the best they could do was stretch a rope immediately behind Woods and McIlroy. The crowd stood within feet of the players, yelling at the top of their lungs.
“I guess it’s different now because the art of clapping is gone,” Woods said. “You can’t clap when you’ve got a cell phone in your hand. So people yell. And they were yelling.”
When he tapped in on 18 for par and his first win in five years, the crowd erupted. Woods fought back tears and hugged everyone in sight. “It means a lot, he said. “It really does. The people who are close to me saw the struggles and what I was going through. Some of the players that I’m pretty close to, they’ve really helped throughout this process the last few years. Their support and some of the things they’ve said meant a lot to me.”
He hadn’t called his children by the time the sun set in Atlanta. That was next.
“Now they know,” he said. They’ve equated golf with pain because every time I did it, I would hurt. Now they’re seeing a little bit of joy, seeing how much fun it is for me to be able to do this again.
Driver: TaylorMade M3 460 (9.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ White 70TX
3 Wood: TaylorMade M3 (13 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ White 80TX
5 Wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ White 80TX
Irons: TaylorMade TW-Phase1 prototype (3-PW)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind Raw (56 and 60 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400
Putter: Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS
Golf Ball: Bridgestone TourB XS
Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet Cord
Republished with permission from Global Golf Post