The Associated Press
ATLANTA–Tiger Woods, in his Sunday red shirt, both arms raised in victory on the 18th green.
For so many years, the scene was familiar.
This time, it was surreal.
“I can’t believe I pulled this off,” Woods said yesterday during the trophy presentation at the Tour Championship, where he gave thousands of delirious fans at East Lake, and millions more around the world, what they wanted to see–and what they thought they might never see again.
And at that moment, Woods was overcome with emotion and paused.
After two back surgeries six weeks apart, he couldn’t lie down, sit, or walk without pain. Golf was the least of his concerns–so much that he once said anything else he achieved would be “gravy.”
One year ago, while recovering from a fourth back surgery, he still had no idea if he could come back to the highest level of golf.
“Just to be able to compete and play again this year, that’s a hell of a comeback,” he remarked.
Woods delivered the perfect ending to his amazing return from back surgeries with a performance out of the past.
He left the competition feeling hopeless as he built a five-shot lead early and then hung on for a one-over 71 and a two-shot victory over Billy Horschel.
It was the 80th victory of his PGA Tour, two short of the career record held by Sam Snead that now is very much in play.
And it was his first victory in more than five years, dating to the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational.
And that brought a new version of “Tigermania.”
After he hit his second shot to the par-five 18th safely in a bunker in front of the green, the crowd came through the ropes and followed behind in a chaotic celebration.
This felt just as big as a major–maybe better considering where Woods had been.
Several players, from Zach Johnson to Rickie Fowler to Horschel, waited to greet him. It was Johnson who unveiled red shirts at the Ryder Cup two years ago in the team room that said, “Make Tiger Great Again.”
“They knew what I was struggling with,” Woods said. “It was special to see them.”
Woods finished at 11-under 269 and won $1.62 million, along with a $3-million bonus for finishing second in the FedEx Cup.
The only disappointment–a minor one under the circumstances–was realizing as he came down the 18th that Rose had made birdie to finish in a three-way tie for fourth, which gave him the FedEx Cup and the $10-million bonus.
Without that birdie, Woods would have won his third FedEx Cup title after starting at No. 20 going into the Tour Championship.