With his stunning wire-to-wire victory Saturday at the Zozo Championship in Japan, it’s official: No golfer has ever won more PGA Tour events than Tiger Woods. After getting within one of Sam Snead’s career record of 82 PGA Tour victories at the Masters back in April, Woods (-19) tied the mark on Sunday with a 3-stroke victory over Hideki Matsuyama (-16) at the inaugural Zozo Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.
This one was as unexpected as any of the previous 81. Maybe the most unexpected. After not shooting a single score lower than 67 since March 2019, Woods opened with three in a row in Japan as he started 64-64-66 to take a three-stroke lead into the final round. From there, it was a wrap. It’s always a wrap when Woods has a three-stroke going into the final round of any tournament, even if it adds a bit of pressure being the leader each round.
Because of crazy weather on Friday, the tournament finish was bumped to Monday morning. Woods completed 29 holes on Sunday local time (Saturday evening here in the United States) before closing out the last seven holes on Monday morning (Sunday evening here).
“Five days at the top of the board is a long time, man. It was definitely stressful,” said Woods, who is now ranked sixth in the Official World Golf Rankings.
The coast was clear when he teed it up on Monday, though. He played the front nine of Round 4 in 2 under on Sunday, and after opening Monday with bogey in his first hole on the fifth day of the tournament, Woods settled in and wound up 1 under on the back nine for a 67 that included a walk-off birdie putt at the last. His 27 birdies led the field on the week, and he finished in the top 10 in fairways and greens hit and putts made per green in regulation.
“This was big. Hideki made it tight. It was a lot closer than what people probably thought,” Woods said. “I had a chance to get myself a cushion at 13 and 15, missed those, made one at 14. Hideki did what he needed to do to put heat on me. It came down to the last hole.”
This wasn’t Woods simply getting hot with the flat stick for a week against Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. It was a legit win against a loaded field that will undoubtedly result in Woods picking himself for the President’s Cup team (he’s the captain) at the beginning of next month. Woods, 43, has four picks to spend, and he will use one on the best to ever tee it up.
“I think the player definitely got the captain’s attention,” Woods joked after the win.
After a knee surgery back in August, Woods looked like a completely different golfer than we saw down the stretch last season. Following his Masters win, Woods withdrew from PGA Tour events as many times as he finished in the top 10 (one each) and missed a pair of cuts, both at major championships. It was the ultimate buzzkill after the most improbable locale for his 81st PGA Tour celebration. It also made us wonder whether that fifth green jacket was the peak, the apex. Not only was he missing cuts and shooting poor scores, he looked tired, brittle and generally like he wasn’t having any fun at all. It was a slog for everyone involved in this traveling circus, him most of all.
Woods has been out of the public eye for several months now. He recently reemerged ahead of the Zozo Championship, andbefore the golf had been played that he looked younger, fitter and more healthy than we’d seen him all year. I felt preposterous at the time for overstating a few clips where he wasn’t even really playing golf, and now I feel preposterous for understating what now seems obvious. Woods’ swing looks less stuck through the ball than it has in a long time. His follow-through looks like silk. He’s walking like a man half his age. Perhaps Ponce de Leon performed that knee surgery.
What is true about Tiger now has always been true about Tiger: If his body is healthy, he will win events. That has waned in recent years because his body hasn’t been healthy, and he will never win at the clip he used to because nobody will, but this run of three victories in 13 months has proven that reality still holds weight in the golf world.
“I know how it feels to have this game — what I felt like — taken away from you where I couldn’t participate in the way I wanted to,” Woods said. “I’m just so happy and so fortunate to have this opportunity again.”
His 82nd win couldn’t have come at a more unsuspecting place at a more ridiculous time — finishing off seven holes of play because of a weather suspension on a Sunday night as the NFL, NBA and World Series engulf the attention of sports fans in this country. It’s the opposite of what his entire career has been, which is an in-your-face triumph of one of the great artists in the history of the world. Not athletes, but artists.
The way No. 82 took place was the exact opposite of how No. 81 transpired. They still count the same, though, and Snead now has a peer in the record books. The best part about all of this, though, is not that Tiger won for the 82nd time in his short career (in terms of tournaments played). Snead played in 585 PGA Tour events and won 82 of his first 425 (none for the last 18 years). Woods caught him in 359 events, and his .228 winning mark is best all-time, narrowly over Ben Hogan. If you need further context, Mickelson has nearly half as many wins as Woods in almost twice as many events played.
The most exciting part is not that Woods reached a number it looked 10 years ago like he was going to leave in the dust. It’s that Woods keeps upending our expectations.
A 2019-20 PGA Tour season that looked as if it was going to see mostly mediocre golf from the G.O.A.T. is now poised to be his best post-back surgery year yet.
The most exciting part is not that 82 happened but rather that No. 83, 84 and 85 look like they will as well.
After all, since when does Tiger Woods settle for T1?
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