The spectators who cheered Tiger Woods Sunday afternoon at the 2018 Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta were frosting on the cake. The cake itself was Woods’ remarkable 80th career PGA Tour win. It is the beginning of Tiger Woods: Chapter Three and we can’t wait to see what happens next.
Once upon a time, Tiger Woods owned golf like no one since Babe Ruth has owned a sport. He was a hero, revered by young and old, and a symbol for minorities who felt left out of the gold world. Single-handedly, Woods yanked golf out of its niche as a sport for rich white guys and into a national obsession. He was transformative, transcendent, and the best thing to happen to golf since the niblick and the mashie gave way to woods and irons.
Then came the phone call, the crash into a tree and his much-publicized divorce from supermodel Elin Nordegren. Seemingly, hell literally, overnight Tiger Woods went from God to rich horndog with a questionable taste in extra-marital girlfriends. He was a butt for every late-night comedian with a television show and a knife for Tiger Woods.
Tiger Woods wandered for a bit. He went to a so-called “sex addiction clinic” that may or may not have helped as much as it gave further ammunition to his detractors.
Meanwhile, Tiger had two things on his mind. How would he regain the respect and admiration of a public who loves to tear down, but seeks to rebuild? And, why was his back pain becoming worse?
Earlier this year he pondered whether he would ever again swing a golf club, even recreationally. To go from there to a tournament win is amazing! This may have been Tiger Woods’ most improbable win in his illustrious career.
Amazing? Yes, but there was a process. He didn’t climb out of traction to win a tournament. In the last eight months, Woods has notched five top-10 finishes, including last Sunday’s victory. He was a two-time contender at major tournaments, including his second-place finish at the 2018 PGA Championship.
But none of that takes away from the enormity of Woods’ accomplishment. Just last week, Woods remembered dark days from a physical standpoint when he could find no relief from back miseries.
“I didn’t think I’d ever play again,” he said. “When I was laying on the ground and couldn’t move for a number of months, golf is the furthest thing from my mind.”
Then came Memorial Day 2017, when Woods took a cocktail of pain and sleep meds, fell asleep in his car, and was arrested for DUI. He went to a rehab unit. Was this, finally, the end of Tiger Woods on the public stage? Or, could he play competitive golf? Surely, he couldn’t win. Or could he?
“I guess you don’t put anything past him,” said Steve Stricker, who is a vice-captain for this year’s Ryder Cup team, and was the captain of last year’s winning Presidents Cup team. “He’s capable of anything. I think that’s where the hope lies. Nothing would surprise you.
“I didn’t write him off by any means. It’s neat to see him back. Neat to see him excited to play and how engaged he is, not only with the [Presidents Cup] team last year but with fans and the team this year. It’s cool to see. It’s fun to be around him and see how excited he is.”
Ahead of Tiger Woods is his participation as a part of Team United States in the Ryder Cup tournament that starts this weekend. He has performed adequately, if not particularly well, at previous Ryder Cups. Will this be his chance to emerge victorious again, if not heroically?
After the Ryder Cup, comes Woods’ renewed attack on the record he has been after since he was an undergrad at Stanford. Namely Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships. Currently, Woods’ count is 14 majors. One tour win does not equal even one major, much less 4-5 majors. But, Tiger Woods is back, and golf just became compelling again.