Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods
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As you might have heard by now, Tiger Woods won the Zozo Championship on Sunday for his record-tying 82nd career PGA Tour victory. In the aftermath, there are a bazillion factoids regarding his lengthy dominance and subsequent resurgence, each one more eye-popping than the last.
Here’s my personal fave: If you combined the win totals of the nine players ahead of Tiger in the world ranking entering this weekend, they’d still be three shy of his historic number.
If Woods had captured No. 82 back in 1965 — like the man he tied, Sam Snead — a simpler time with a slower news cycle might’ve allowed us to relish these stats and this moment without any microanalysis about “what it all means.”
This is 2019, though, and microanalysis isn’t just a cottage industry, it’s a way of life. And so, Woods’ latest title will undoubtedly stoke the flames of a tired debate. You know the one: Is he truly golf’s G.O.A.T.?
The easy answer is yes. We’ve watched him, we’ve studied his success and we’ve determined he’s the best ever. The contrarian answer is no. The game’s greatest players judge themselves by major championships and since he remains a few notches below Jack Nicklaus, the argument ends there.
Then there’s the rational answer: It doesn’t matter.
Not today, at least. Not now. Not after such a monumental achievement.
As difficult as it might be, let’s leave the talk-show takes and 19th hole squabbles for another time. Right now, in the moment, Woods’ record-tying title isn’t about conjecture.
No, this is a story about resiliency. Over and over and over again. Every time we thought he was down, Tiger got up, dusted himself off, then dusted another field of world-class competition.
An admission: I lied. That note I listed earlier about Woods having more PGA Tour wins than the nine players ranked above him is the kind of stuff that garners a few retweets and captures our attention for a few seconds, but it’s not my favorite.
This one is the real page-turner in this story, even if it’s not easily wrapped up in a tidy character count for social media consumption: During the first 13 years of his professional career, Tiger won 71 events. That placed him third all-time, laughably on schedule to tie and surpass and leave Snead in his wake on the way to rewriting the history books.
He then endured personal scandal, divorce and a heaping dose of apathy. You can’t tell the entire story without telling this part of it. He went nearly three full years without a victory, leaving us to justifiably wonder whether he’d ever win again.
When he did, the proverbial floodgates opened. He triumphed three times in a year, then five more the next year. He went from 71 to 79 twice as quickly as he once went from 1 to 9. Not for the first time, reaching 82 wins seemed like an inevitability. Until it gradually felt impossible again.
One surgery led to another. He admitted to those close to him that he was done. Forget golf, he just wanted to get out of bed and walk, just wanted to live a relatively healthy life around his kids.
For more than a half-decade, Woods’ career odometer remained three wins behind Snead. Those who insist now that they never gave up hope are either deliriously fanatic or blindly inattentive. For as much as he maintains that he enjoys proving the doubters wrong, that camp included Woods himself.
The 80th win occurred after a fourth back surgery, this one a spinal fusion, which finally did the trick. That was a little over a year ago, when Tiger played Pied Piper to the massive waves of Tour Championship spectators who almost literally carried him down the final fairway.
The 81st was the stuff of legend, a 15th major championship and fifth Masters title, 14 years after the most recent one. Forget the Snead record. If this was Woods’ swan song in the winner’s circle, the indelible images were enough to carry us over for a lifetime.
Then came the 82nd.
As far as Woods’ wins are concerned, it was hardly the most predictable. He hadn’t played since being ousted from the FedEx Cup playoffs in mid-August, after which he underwent yet another surgery, this one a fifth on his left knee.
He appeared rusty in a Monday skins game, then blitzed the Zozo field, winning in wire-to-wire fashion to claim a spot alongside Snead, one that we all thought was inevitable then impossible, then inevitable and impossible again.
In the immediate wake of Tiger’s accomplishment, this is the story.
It’s not about spewing opinions on where we rank him or how he stacks up against others or any other mindless disputations that attempt to microanalyze the situation.
If you’re still trying to figure out what this feat means, go with this: It means the world’s most resilient golfer has done it again. He’s fully proven everyone wrong, including himself.
“It’s just crazy, it’s a lot,” he said afterward of the record. “I’ve been consistent most of my career and I’ve put myself up there with a chance to win on a number of occasions.”
That quote might set another record, this one for the most understated self-aggrandizement after such a noteworthy milestone. That’s OK, though, because Tiger let his clubs do the talking once again. They told the story of a comeback for the ages, one that came full circle by tying a record we always figured he’d reach, then never assumed was possible.