Tiger Woods’ 2019 is close to inexplicable. Woods entered the year coming off a roller-coaster ending to 2018 in which he won the Tour Championship and capsized at the Ryder Cup. Generally speaking, the former far outweighed the latter, but the latter at least planted a seed of doubt in the minds of many golf fans.
Perhaps the Tour Championship victory was the apex of this final comeback run.
Spoiler: It was not.
After flirting with top-10 finishes throughout the early spring, Woods crested — as he often does — at the first major championship of the year.
Looking at it eight months later, it has not gotten any less remarkable that Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters. At age 43. Ahead of Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka in their primes. After trailing by two going into Sunday.
I was there, and I’ve thought about it about 2,304 times since that weekend. It’s still difficult to fully comprehend.
The months that followed were a trough. Woods sort of reemerged around the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but for the most part, it was an amalgamation of disappointment and defeat. If his body wasn’t beaten up and broken down, it was at least in the neighborhood of those two realities.
Following a knee surgery and loads of rest after a quick hook from the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Woods tackled a fall slate that seemed busy for anyone, much less somebody his age with that much mileage.
Woods won the Zozo Championship in Japan to tie Sam Snead’s record for PGA Tour victories (82) following a three-month layoff. No big deal. Then he nearly won his own event, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, prior to the Presidents Cup.
Oh yeah, the Presidents Cup. He won that, too.
Woods, a player-captain, went 3-0-0 as a golfer. He was the best player in a field featuring 24 of the 80 best in the world. And he did all of it while managing his own team to a wild Sunday comeback.
I know he’s the best to ever do it, but even this close to 2019 seemed a bit out of the realm of possibility for him.
All things considered, I’m not sure any athlete in the world had a better year than Tiger Woods.
The fact that he bookended the year with his 15th major and another Presidents Cup victory — while the middle of it consisted of plenty of wandering — doesn’t diminish what he accomplished. Rather, it enhances it.
That somebody who is capable of looking as bad as Woods did at places like The Open can still summons what is required to win the Masters and lead a team to victory at a place like Royal Melbourne serves as a wonderful contrast.
In his younger years, when all he did was win, he was superhuman. What he’s doing now is more relatable, which somehow makes it even more remarkable.
Consider this: Not only was winning that 82nd career PGA Tour event to the all-time record not the most impressive thing he accomplished all year, it may not have been the most impressive thing he accomplished this fall.
Don’t get me wrong, that 82nd win at the Zozo was brilliant. Woods’ playing partner over the final 36 holes, Gary Woodland, has been talking for weeks about what he witnessed in Japan. The control Woods had over his ball and the precision with which he played displayed a mastery of the game that the reigning U.S. Open champion could only gawk at.
It’s a lot to take in.
Nobody knows what the future looks like. With Woods, it seems like it’s less month-to-month and more week-to-week.
But for a singular year, across three continents, we got as good of a Tiger Woods experience as we’ve gotten in the last decade.
Tiger winning the Masters on a morose Sunday morning in Georgia. Tiger getting No. 82 on a crisp Monday morning in Japan. Tiger embracing his friends and colleagues on a chilled Sunday afternoon in Australia following his surgical dissection of a classic course. He played genius golf and appeared genuinely invested in all the relationships he’s built with his family, caddie, teammates and fellow player along the way.
Tiger the golfer was definitely better in 2000 and 2005 and 2008, and that version of Woods is worthy of adulation because perfection never seemed so imminent.
But this version of Tiger? I’m thoroughly enjoying this one a whole lot more. And I think he might be, too.