ATLANTA (AP) — Tiger Woods, in his Sunday red shirt, both arms raised in victory on the 18th green.
For so many years, the scene was familiar.
This time, it was surreal.
“I can’t believe I pulled this off,” Woods said Sunday during the trophy presentation at the Tour Championship, where he gave thousands of delirious fans at East Lake, and millions more around the world, what they wanted to see, and what they thought they might never see again.
And at that moment, Woods was overcome with emotion and paused.
After two back surgeries six weeks apart, he couldn’t lie down, sit or walk without pain. Golf was the least of his concerns, so much that he once said anything else he achieved would be “gravy.”
One year ago, while recovering from a fourth back surgery, he still had no idea if he could come back to the highest level of golf.
“Just to be able to compete and play again this year, that’s a hell of a comeback,” he said.
Woods delivered the perfect ending to his amazing return from back surgeries with a performance out of the past. He left the competition feeling hopeless as he built a five-shot lead early and then hung on for a 1-over 71 and a two-shot victory over Billy Horschel.
It was the 80th victory of his PGA Tour, two short of the career record held by Sam Snead that is now very much in play. And it was his first victory in more than five years, dating to the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational.
And that brought a new version of Tigermania.
After he hit his second shot to the par-5 18th safely in a bunker in front of the green, the crowd came through the ropes and followed behind in a chaotic celebration. It was like that when he walked from the left side of the 18th fairway at the 1997 Masters he won by 12. It was reminiscent of that walk up the 18th fairway later that summer at the Western Open in Chicago.