All the brightest stars came out to shine after the first round of the season ending PGA Tour Championship. The final event in the four-tournament FedEx Cup is golf’s smallest but most elite field with only the top 30 players eligible to compete for the richest prize in golf; 10M U.S.
Brightest of all was Tiger Woods, whose opening 5-under par 65 saw him tie Rickie Fowler for the lead after the first day. Woods began his day with a 3-putt bogey on his opening hole but would be flawless after that at East Lake Golf Club, capping his brilliant day with a Woodsian eagle 3 on the 18th hole.
A shot behind the leading duo were Gary Woodland and newly minted World #1, England’s Justin Rose (Rose overtook Dustin Johnson to become the highest ranked player for the first time in his career). Another stroke behind at 3-under were Rory McIlroy and Americans, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau, who was just named as Jim Furyk’s final Captain’s pick for next week’s U.S. Ryder Cup team.
FedEx Cup leader Bryson DeChambeau who won the first two playoff events struggled to a 1-over 71 leaving him in a tie for 21st place and down to 4th place in the FedEx race. If the event were to end today that would mean a difference of 8.5 M US in prizemoney which is the disparity between first and fourth in the year-long FedEx chase.
Woods did not have the same control in Friday’s second round and was spraying shots all over East Lake but his mercurial short game saved the day and he was able to record a 2-under 68. That was good enough to give him a share of the lead with Rose at 7-under.
This is the first 36-hole lead that Woods has claimed since his latest comeback began and the 48th time in his career that he’s held the second-round lead or co-lead (he has gone on to win 43 of 48 of those times).
Rose and Woods were two shots ahead of McIlroy and three clear of Spanish superstar Jon Ram and a trio of Americans, Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and Billy Horschel.
Woods birdied five of the first six holes that he played on Saturday to distance himself from the field and for a brief moment take us back 15 years in time to when this kind of dominance was the rule not the exception. Woods was unable though to keep up his torrid play and finished the day with a 5-under 65 that was three shots better than Rose and McIlroy who were at 9-under.
In the 57 times that Woods has either led or been tied for the lead in a tournament heading into the final round, he has only failed to win on 4 occasions.
The writing has been on the wall as we have watched Woods make his fourth comeback from back surgery this year. It began in February where Woods had a couple of solid performances and then gained momentum through the year culminating with his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship https://www.birdgolf.com/a-historic-third/
On Sunday Woods was not dominant but he didn’t need to be as his two nearest pursuers struggled and no one else could mount any kind of challenge. Back-to-back bogies on the 15th and 16th hole shrunk his advantage down to two but Woods would right ship and finish with a pars on the final two holes. His 1-over 71 and a tournament total of 11-under was good enough for a 2 shot margin of victory over Horschel. Rose fell back with a 3-over 73 to be in a tie for 4th, but held on to win the FedEx Cup by a whisker over Woods.
It was not in the purest sense a virtuoso performance by Woods, but it may have been one of the most important triumphs of his career.
The struggles and obstacles that he has had to overcome should be a reminder to all how fickle this game can be, but also a beacon for hope and a symbol for perseverance.
Only 5 years ago we imagined that Woods’s overtaking Sam Snead for the all-time Tour win mark of 82 victories was a foregone conclusion https://www.birdgolf.com/the-79th/ but then life reminded us that nothing is assured.
In many ways, 80 may be the sweetest of all.