Only the staunchest of Tiger Woods fans gave him a chance of returning to the top of the game when he made a long-awaited return to action in 2018. Fast forward less than a year and many of his critics are eating their words.
The previous four years had been a mixture of personal failure off the course and injuries preventing him from actually getting on it.
Such was the plummet down not only the world rankings—but from the public conscience too, as upstarts like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas emerged as world number ones and major winners—little was expected from Woods upon his first full season back on the PGA TOUR.
But the 14-time major winner is not known as the GOAT—the greatest of all time—for no reason. Yes, he may still be four short of Jack Nicklaus’ record haul of 18 career majors. But nobody has quite dominated golf in the way that Tiger Woods did in his pomp, and that is why he is regarded as the best.
Four Masters victories, three U.S. Opens, three Open Championships wins and four PGA Championships, plus 79 PGA TOUR wins prior to his comeback season underlined just why he was— and is—the best.
Yet still some doubted whether Woods was up to winning again. His time in the doldrums had spawned a new breed of champion, and Woods was merely another name after returning to the game.
A memorable comeback year
Think again. Woods is a winner. And he proved that by ending what was a memorable comeback year, one in which his performances far exceeded even his own expectations, with victory in the season-ending TOUR Championship.
It was win number 80 on the PGA TOUR. His performance at East Lake was reminiscent of the Woods-of-old, getting himself into that winning position and beating off rival after rival while wearing that famous Sunday red.
End of a five-year drought
“I was having a hard time not crying on that last hole,” Woods said, after ending a five-year drought since his last win in the Bridgestone Invitational in 2013. “I just can’t believe I’ve pulled this off.
“At the beginning of the year, it was a tall order but as the year progressed and I proved I could play, I knew I could do it again.
“It’s been tough. I’ve had a not-so-easy last couple of years. I’ve worked my way back. I couldn’t have done it without the help of all the people around me.
“Some of the other players knew what I was struggling with. It was really special to see them at the green on 18. It’s just hard to believe I won the TOUR Championship.”
Woods had dropped to 1,199th in the world rankings during his time off, which included several failed attempts to return from injury.
A great 2018
Now, however, he is back on the verge of the world’s top 10 again after a year in which he not only won the TOUR Championship but also finished runner-up in the Valspar Championship and PGA Championship.
Woods was also named as a deserved wildcard pick in Jim Furyk’s U.S. Ryder Cup Team which was beaten by Europe at Le Golf National in Paris. It wasn’t the perfect ending, as Woods struggled in France, but it was all part of the bigger picture.
It has been something of a dream year for Woods. But there is likely to be more to come in 2019. Now we know Tiger Woods can win again, but are there major wins left in him? Probably.