Tiger Woods is officially back.
The greatest player of this generation captured his 80th PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the Tour Championship by holding off the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, and in the end, Billy Horschel, to win by two strokes.
“I can’t believe I pulled this off,” Woods said during the trophy presentation. “It was just a grind out there. I loved every bit of it. The fight and the grind and the tough conditions and just have to suck it up and hit shots, and I loved every bit of it.”
While hundreds of thousands of words will be written about what his most recent win means for Woods’ future — How many more times can he win? Can he get another major? Sam Snead’s record is only two away, are we sure Jack Nicklaus’ major record is off the table? — a look into the not-so-distant past should remind fans of the game just how incredible Tiger’s return to the winner’s circle is.
In just the last decade, Woods won a U.S. Open on a broken leg, had his personal life exposed and ridiculed to a level that has never before been seen in history, undergone four different back surgeries, once again had his personal life exposed and dragged through the mud with a picture-leaking scandal and been arrested for a DUI.
After his win on Sunday, a nostalgic Woods looked back on what he called his lowest moment over the past few years.
“Probably the low point was not knowing if I’d ever be able to live pain-free again,” Woods said. “Am I going to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down without feeling the pain that I was in. I just didn’t want to live that way. This is how the rest of my life is going to be? It’s going to be a tough rest of my life.
“I was beyond playing. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg. That was a pretty low point for a very long time.”
False-starting comeback attempts made even the most ardent Tiger believers take stock of their expectations. Yet, on Sunday in Atlanta, there was Woods in his customary red and black, sitting atop the leaderboard, doing his best to take all the drama out of the proceedings.
Looking back at old Tiger quotes and just amazed he’s here.
Dec. 2015: “There’s really nothing I can look forward to.”
Nov. 2016: “It was a period of a month or two where … I just couldn’t get out of bed.”
May 2017: “Even lying down hurt. I was at the end of my rope.”
— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) September 23, 2018
As it often seems to be with sports debates that cross generations, Woods’ comeback will be spoken of in the same breath as Ben Hogan, who was infamously involved in a horrific car crash with a Greyhound bus. The injuries Hogan sustained were substantial — a double-fracture of the pelvis, a fractured collarbone, a left ankle fracture, a chipped rib, and near-fatal blood clots — but he returned to the Tour within the year.
11 months after the accident, Hogan returned to competitive golf at the L.A. Open. He would eventually go on to win 11 more times on the PGA Tour, including six major championships.
How does Woods’ comeback stack up against Hogan’s? Or the likes of those in other sports? That’s for clubhouse, bar room and sports radio to debate.
What’s not debatable, however, is the resilience, perseverance and talent it takes for a once-great champion to overcome the greatest public shaming in modern history as well as physical limitations that threatened to alter his very well-being as a functioning member of society to win on the best Tour in the world.
If Tiger Woods’ comeback isn’t the greatest of all time, it’s not far from it.