Tiger roars again after year of redemption

Capping his sensational return to form in 2019, the Woods juggernaut kept on rolling at last week’s Presidents Cup

MELBOURNE-Two years ago the future for Tiger Woods looked bleak to the point of darkness.

Four back surgeries, countless knee operations, marital strife and run-ins with the law meant Woods had not won a major since 2008, had no tournament victories since 2013 and had seen his world ranking plummet to 656.

But on Sunday, Woods capped a year that has seen one of the most memorable comebacks in sporting history by captaining his United States team to a 16-14 victory over Ernie Els’ Internationals in the 13th Presidents Cup in Melbourne.

The second coming of Tiger began with a drought-ending victory at the Tour Championship 15 months ago and accelerated with a 15th major and fifth Green Jacket at the US Masters in Augusta.

Having returned to the world’s top 10, Woods needed yet more surgery to his troublesome left knee in August before writing another remarkable chapter of his storied career.

In his first tournament appearance after the arthroscopic operation, Woods equaled Sam Snead’s record of 82 US PGA Tour wins when he won the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan.

“It’s been an amazing year,” a beaming Woods told Golf TV in Melbourne. “I’m speechless.

“To have won a major championship, a Green Jacket, to have tied Sam and to have won a cup with all these guys, I couldn’t have asked for a better year.”

The road to redemption began with his long-awaited win at the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup finale, at East Lake, Atlanta, in September 2018.

Woods had endured two years out of the game and shuffled out of his tournament return in February 2018-the Dubai Desert Classic-with back spasms, causing observers to question whether he could compete again at the highest level.

Dark days

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The thought had also crossed the mind of Woods.

Less than a year earlier he had hobbled into the Champions Dinner on the eve of the 2017 US Masters nursing yet another back injury, telling those assembled: “I’m done, I don’t think I’ll ever play golf again.”

But two-and-a-half years later, Woods was unsurpassed at Royal Melbourne as he won all three of his matches and overtook Phil Mickelson for the most wins in Presidents Cup history.

“How about that? I like that stat,” smiled Woods, after being told his win-loss-tie record in the tournament was now 27-15-1 against his great rival Mickelson’s 26-16-13.

It left Els, not for the first time in his career, having to pick up the pieces after a defeat to Woods.

The 50-year-old South African, who has been widely praised for his captaincy which saw the Internationals lead after every session until Sunday, might also regret his words on the eve of the tournament.

“I don’t think today (Woods) has the same kind of aura he had in the past,” Els had said.

Young Mexican Abraham Ancer is another player who might want to be more careful about what he says in future.

“I would like to play against Tiger,” Ancer said before the Presidents Cup began. “Winning a match in the singles would be very special.”

He came up against a ruthless Woods who won 3&2.

“Abe wanted it,” chided Woods. “And he got it.”

Woods will celebrate his 44th birthday on Dec 30.

Next year promises to be a continuation of the second coming of Tiger, with the American set to resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18 major titles.

Woods has hinted there could also be a crack at Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games.

But first he can be forgiven for putting his feet up. “I am now retired for the year,” laughed Woods, before heading off to join the US team’s celebrations.

Simmering rivalry

Meanwhile, the battle between the world’s top two players is shaping up to be one of golf’s most intriguing storylines in 2020.

Last year, the top-ranked Brooks Koepka won his fourth major at the PGA Championship, while No 2 Rory McIlroy claimed four titles and was named PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Koepka insists it’s not a rivalry, but McIlroy begs to differ.

“He (Koepka) talked about trying to be the dominant player in the game… and I thought: ‘He’s going to have to go through me first’,” Northern Ireland’s McIlroy said after beating Koepka at the Tour Championship.

But the American hit back, saying: “I’ve been out here for, what, five years. Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour. So I just don’t view it as a rivalry.”

They are joint-favorites to win the year’s first major, April’s Masters.


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