Given that few expected him to get to this point as recently as 18 months ago, it’s somehow fitting that Tiger Woods’ record-tying 82nd PGA Tour victory came in an unexpected location, the first-ever PGA Tournament held in Japan, and an unusual time, a Monday morning local time finish thanks to a typhoon.
With his three-shot, 19-under victory at the Zozo Championship, Woods now has 82 wins on the PGA Tour, a total that matches Sam Snead’s 54-year-old all-time victory record on the PGA Tour.
Woods entered Sunday night (American time)/Monday morning (Japanese time) having to play the final seven holes of the Zozo Championship thanks to torrential rains that soaked the course for much of the weekend. That meant course organizers had to scramble, but American viewers got the benefit of a couple of hours of unexpected golf.
As the day began, Woods stood at 18-under, three strokes clear of Hideki Matsuyama and six clear of Rory McIlroy, Gary Woodland and Sungjae Im. But he had the poor fortune to start his round on the 490-yard, par-4 12th, the toughest hole, where he’d bogeyed once and parred twice earlier in the tournament.
Woods bogeyed that hole, allowing Matsuyama to draw within two. Matsuyama missed a short putt on the par-5 14th that would have put him just a single stroke back of Woods. Right after him, on the same hole, Woods rolled in a 10-footer for birdie to reestablish the three-stroke lead. Matsuyama birdied 16, pulling to within two strokes, but missed a long putt on 17 to force the issue. Woods played steady golf the rest of the way in, and never let Matsuyama get too close.
“This was big,” Woods said afterward. “It was a lot closer than people probably thought. ... It was definitely stressful.”
As of 2013, Woods appeared stuck on 79 wins, his last coming at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational that year. Multiple surgeries and off-course problems appeared to signal the end of Woods’ career as a winning golfer … that is, until he won the 2018 Tour Championship and followed that off with a historic victory at the 2019 Masters.
But that victory in Augusta appeared to have hollowed out Woods; he later indicated that he’d spent so much effort getting back up to the mountaintop that he had nothing left once he was there. He missed the cut in two of the three remaining majors, and finished tied for 21st in the U.S. Open. He bowed out of the FedEx Cup playoffs in August and underwent knee surgery, announcing plans to come back for this tournament in Japan.
Woods began the tournament on an ugly skid: three straight bogeys to open Thursday. But by the end of the day, buoyed by nine birdies over the final 16 holes, he held the lead. He would keep it for the next three days, through storms that threatened to wash out the entire tournament.
Weather delays always play havoc with golfers’ schedules, but this one was stranger than most. An entire day of play was washed out over the weekend, so Woods and several other players checked out an afternoon showing of “Joker” — and then Woods, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Gary Woodland, Bubba Watson and Ryan Palmer got stranded in a Domino’s Pizza when the weather was too treacherous for shuttle buses to even drive.
What does Woods’ win mean for golf history? Frankly, not all that much. Snead’s mark of 82 wins is a wee bit tricked up. As this article noted a few years back, Snead got credit for some wins he shouldn’t, and didn’t get credit for some that he should. Some of his wins came in shorter-than-54-hole tournaments, others came with partners, still others came with tiny fields of less than 20 players. Woods hit the mark under far more stringent conditions than Snead.
After the win, NBC’s Dan Hicks posted a fascinating photo of a young Woods meeting Snead, the who-could-have-imagined aura hanging heavy over the picture:
— Dan Hicks (@DanHicksNBC) October 28, 2019
What this win means for Woods is substantial. He’s continuing to prove that he’s still one of the best players on Tour — not dominant, certainly, but always capable of dominating. This may have been an inaugural tournament, but it was a full-field event, with a full complement of the world’s best players in the field. (Brooks Koepka, who’s one of the few players ever to face down Woods and win, wasn’t in the tournament because of injury.)
Going forward, Woods still has to decide whether to pick himself as a member of the Presidents Cup team. (“The player definitely got the captain’s attention,” he smiled.) Beyond that? It’ll be April and time for Woods’ defense of his Masters title before you know it.
“Physically I can’t do anything that I used to do, four back surgeries and my body can’t do what it used to,” Woods said. “But I can certainly think my way around a golf course. I don’t hit the ball anywhere near as far compared to the field. ... I know how to play, and I was able to do that this week.”
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