They couldn’t wait. Not for a fist pump, not for a final putt, not even for the ball to land on the green. Tiger Woods was walking down the 18th fairway on Sunday as the leader on this final day of the Tour Championship, striding and smiling side-by-side with playing partner Rory McIlroy, and without any invitation besides their own joy, dozens and then hundreds of fans began thundering behind the pair in an impromptu parade that verged on stampede.
They whooped; they cried out “Tiger!”; they held their cell phones aloft to capture themselves as hapless event staffers failed to do the same. By the time Woods was on the green, needing only a three-putt for victory, the throng punched the air and chanted his name, resembling less a golf crowd than a stadium of concert-goers demanding an encore.
When Woods tapped home his 71st and final stroke of the day he did not unleash the balled-fist uppercut of old but instead bent calmly to retrieve his ball amid yet another surrounding roar – and then, finally, his wait was over too, raising both arms to the sky to join the rolling celebration. Tiger Woods is a winner again, five years and 50 days since the last time he claimed a tournament trophy, in August of 2013 at Akron.
In the final event of a comeback season defined by teasing near-wins and the rising, anticipatory buzz that accompanied each of his promising rounds, Woods ground out a two-stroke win with a one-over on Sunday, in the process providing the most emphatic, affirmative answer yet to the yearslong question of whether he was back.
It was not a dominant close-out of the old Tiger vintage; he entered Sunday leading by three, and though his advantage ballooned as high as six strokes it shrank with consecutive bogeys in the round’s late stages. What Woods’s day lacked in the brilliant theater of his first three rounds it made up for in diligence and completion and a rising drumbeat of yes, it’s happening.
“It’s certainly up there with obviously all the major championships I’ve won, Players, World Golf Championships,” Woods said, at once elated and reflective in his post-round press conference. “But this is under different circumstances. You know, I’ve explained throughout the year that I just didn’t know whether – when this would ever happen again.”
It was that question, unimaginable when he was ripping through the field in majors a decade ago, that has imbued meaning into the 42-year-old Woods’s every action in recent years. His victories once piled dependably like spent calendar pages, the level and style of his success so singular it can best be described tautologically: He was Tiger Woods.