ATLANTA (AP) — A comeback not even Tiger Woods saw coming a year ago.
A chaotic celebration that golf hasn’t seen even in the best of times.
Woods delivered the perfect ending to his amazing return from four back surgeries on Sunday with a performance that felt like the old days. He left the competition feeling hopeless as he built a five-shot lead early and hung on to win the Tour Championship.
Woods raised both arms over his head after he tapped in for par and a 1-over 71 for a two-shot victory over Billy Horschel, the 80th victory of his PGA Tour career and his first in more than five years.
“It was a grind out there,” Woods said. “I loved every bit of it.”
It felt like a coronation coming down the 18th green after he hit his second shot to the par 5 safely in a bunker in front of the green. The crowd came through the ropes and walked behind him, just like that walk from the left side of the 18th fairway when he won the Masters in 1997, and when the enormous gallery of Chicago followed after him when he won the Western Open that summer.
Only when he was on the green, the last one to putt after Rory McIlroy tapped in for birdie, did it start to sink in. “All of a sudden it hit me that I was going to win the tournament. I started tearing up a little bit,” Woods said. “I can’t believe I pulled this off.”
One year ago, Woods was still waiting for his lower back to fuse and wasn’t sure he could ever play again. He told stories of being unable to get off the couch to watch his kids play soccer, much less to chip and putt. He said after the second and third back surgeries in the latter end of 2015 that he already has achieved plenty in golf and anything else would be “gravy.”
Woods brought it all to life over four days at East Lake, and the players who have taken turns at No. 1 during his absence caught the full brunt of it. McIlroy faded early. Justin Rose faded late.
All that was left was the 42-year-old Woods in that Sunday red shirt blazing brighter than ever and a smile he couldn’t shake walking up to collect another trophy. He 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. Rose’s four bogeys over the last 10 holes cost him the No. 1 ranking back to Dustin Johnson, who shot 67 and finished third.
PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Steve Stricker won the inaugural Sanford International for his third PGA Tour Champions title of the year, closing with a 3-under 67 for a four-stroke victory.
Stricker led wire-to-wire at Minnehaha Country Club after rain limited him to only seven pre-tournament holes. The 51-year-old Wisconsin player birdied three of the first four holes and offset bogeys on 13 and 18 with birdies on 15 and 16. He shared the lead after each of the first two rounds.
Stricker also won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. Next week in France, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk’s assistants.
Stricker finished at 13-under 197, and match Paul Broadhurst for the tour victory lead.
Tim Petrovic (65) and Jerry Smith (70) tied for second. Brandt Jobe, tied for the second-round lead, had a 72 to drop into a tie for fourth with Kevin Sutherland (67) at 8 under.
WEB.COM TOUR FINALS
ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.
McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.
McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.
Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200.
Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.
VILAMOURA, Portugal (AP) — Tom Lewis won the Portugal Masters for a second time, shooting a 5-under 66 for a three-stroke victory over fellow Englishman Eddie Pepperell and Australia’s Lucas Herbert.
Lewis finished at 22-under 262 — following an opening 72 with rounds of 63 and 61 to get into contention. He won the 2011 tournament for his only other European Tour title.
Pepperell shot 67, and Herbert 71. Preparing for the Ryder Cup, Spanish star Sergio Garcia closed with a 65 to finish seven strokes back.
Yuta Ikeda closed with a 3-under 68 for a six-shot victory over Justin Harding in the Asia-Pacific Diamond Cup, a co-sanctioned event on the Japan Golf Tour and Asian Tour. It was his first victory this year, giving him at least one victory in 10 consecutive seasons. … Romain Langasque of France rallied from a two shot back with a 5-under 67 for a three-shot victory over Joel Sjoholm and Joel Girrbach in the Provence Open on the European Challenge Tour. … Marcelo Rose of Colombia won the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica’s Brazil Open. He finished with an 8-under 63 for a one-stroke victory over Harrison Endycott and Chase Hanna.
Kendall Dye won the Guardian Championship in Prattville, Alabama, for her second Symetra Tour victory of the year and fourth overall. The former Oklahoma star closed with a 6-under 66 to finish at 16-under 200. Ruixin Liu and Min Seo Kwak finished a stroke back. … Anne Van Dam capped off an eight-shot victory with a 6-under 65 in the Estrella Damm Mediterranean Ladies Open in Spain on the Ladies European Tour. The 22-year-old from The Netherlands had rounds of 64-64-65-65 at Terramar GC to win over Solheim Cup players Caroline Masson and Caroline Hedwall, and amateur Selin Hyun. … Lim Kim closed with a 5-under 67 for a two-shot victory over Jeong Eun Lee in the Se Ri Pak Invitational on the Korean LPGA Tour. … Kaori Ohe closed with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot victory in the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Women’s Open on the Japan LPGA.