Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship on Sunday, beating a 30-man field that included 18 of the top 20 players in the world rankings to end a five-year title drought and complete a career revival almost as inconceivable as his painful descent from the pinnacle of golf.
Woods, 42, triumphed in vintage form, owning the course at East Lake Golf Club from Day 1 with a performance that was equal parts magical and methodical. A small slip on the back nine Sunday provided some extra drama, but Woods would not be denied.
He entered the final round with a three-stroke lead over his nearest challengers and a perfect 23-0 record when entering the final round leading by at least three strokes.
Little in Woods’ life has been perfect in the 1,876 days since his last victory, with four back operations that left him wondering whether he would play again, but he took up here where he left off in 2013, extending his unbeaten record as a front-runner to 24-0. (He is 54-4 when he holds at least a share of the lead going into the final day).
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The victory was Woods’ 80th, two short of Sam Snead’s career tour record. It is a measure of how dominant Woods was before injuries corroded his game that despite all the time he missed, he moved into a tie with Dustin Johnson for the most PGA Tour victories among active players — 19 — since the start of 2008.
He had come close to winning several times this season, with thrilling charges that enraptured galleries but ultimately fizzled. Whenever he threatened, most notably at the year’s last two majors, the British Open and the PGA Championship, he could not close, a wild deviation from his prime.
But Woods did not despair. He was thrilled to be healthy again, recovered from the spinal damage that derailed his transcendent career, forcing four operations over three years and long absences from competitive golf, including virtually all of 2016 and ’17.
Just last month, Woods, a 14-time major winner who averaged six tour titles a year from 1999 to 2007, said he viewed this season as one of the finest of his career, because as 2018 began, “I didn’t know what I was going to do, I just didn’t have a clue.”