Tiger Woods holds a victory trophy during the awarding ceremony of the PGA ZOZO Championship golf tournament at the Narashino Country Club in Inzai on Monday. Toshifumi Kitamura /AFP
Tiger Woods said on Monday his latest injury comeback to win the Zozo Championship and tie the US PGA Tour’s win record had ended the “most challenging” phase of his storied career.
Woods held off Hideki Matsuyama at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club to equal Sam Snead’s record of 82 wins and move to number six in the world rankings from 10th.
It was his first tournament since arthroscopic left knee surgery in August and came after he started the tournament on Thursday with three straight bogeys.
Four back surgeries, countless knee operations, marital strife and run-ins with the law meant Woods had not won a major since 2008 and no tournaments since 2013 when he teed up at the Players Championship at East Lake, Atlanta, just over a year ago.
He had endured two years out of the game and hobbled out of the February 2018 Dubai Desert Classic with back spasms on his long-awaited return.
His ranking plummeted to 656 at the end of 2017, and with form and fitness deserting him many observers felt he might never get the three further tour wins he needed to tie Snead, let alone another major.
Not only did he win the Tour Championship for his first victory in five years, but Woods went on to secure a fifth Green Jacket and 15th major at Augusta earlier this year to stand just three behind Jack Nicklaus’s record 18.
And now he stands unsurpassed as the most successful PGA Tour golfer of all time after victory at the weather-delayed inaugural tournament in Japan.
“Well, it’s satisfying to dig my way out of it and figure out a way,” said Woods, who finished three shots clear on 19-under par.
“As far as playing, I didn’t really know that I would come back and play at this level.
“But I’ve come back with different games over the years, moving patterns, and this one’s been obviously the most challenging,” he said, after four stunning rounds of 64, 64, 66 and 67 for a three-stroke win.
“Then having another procedure a couple months ago and again coming back and winning an event, not easy to do, but I trust my hands and today was no different.”
Woods recalled as a five-year-old in 1981 getting to play with Snead for the only time.
“I played with Sam at, I think, it was Calabasas Country Club,” said Woods. “He was doing an outing there and I had come out to play the 17th and 18th holes with him.
“I remember hitting the ball into a little creek and playing it out of the water and making bogey. I bogeyed the last and he went par-par.
“It was the only time I ever got a chance to play with Sam Snead -- I was two-down through two,” he smiled.
While Snead registered his 82nd win at the age of 52, Woods is nine years younger.
“As far as playing until 52, I hope that’s the case,” said Woods.
“If you would have asked me a few years ago, I would have given you a different answer, but certainly the future looks brighter than it has.”
And that includes coming back to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics next year before defending his Zozo Championship.
“I hope to qualify for the team and represent my country,” he said.
“I know some of my friends have made Olympic teams before in the past and they said it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I’ll be 44 and I don’t know if I have many more chances after that.”
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