Tiger Woods has virtually guaranteed that he will be teeing it up as a player as well as captain at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne, and simultaneously equalled one of the most famous records in golf.
Woods was extraordinary on his season debut in Japan this week, winning the Zozo Championship outside Tokyo today by three shots from Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama when he birdied from three metres at the 72nd hole.
Needing to complete seven holes today, Woods turned out in his closing day red shirt and played nicely again to hold off a fired-up Matsuyama, playing in front of his adoring home crowds.
It was Woods’ 82nd victory on the US PGA Tour, drawing level with the landmark set by Sam Snead with his last win back in 1965 – a record that has survived 54 years. “It’s just crazy,'' he said. "It’s a lot.”
Afterward, he all but confirmed that he will be in the US team at Royal Melbourne, saying with a smirk: “I think the player definitely got the captain’s attention.”
It was his first appearance on course since left knee surgery, and it set up amazing scenes in Japan’s first-ever US PGA Tour tournament – and perhaps in the Melbourne offices of the PGA Tour as well.
In short, Woods’ appearance as a player at the Presidents Cup against the International team hinged on how he performed in Japan; in particular, how his body stood up.
Those questions have been answered unequivocally at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club by the man himself. He will be captain of the US team in Melbourne, and he will surely select himself as one of the four discretionary picks available to him when the 12-man teams are finalised next week.
Tick that particular box. The other players want him in, he wants to play himself, and the tour and the organisers clearly know that his presence as a player – and not just as captain – will move the needle hugely at Royal Melbourne.
An in-form and healthy Woods has the potential to put 10-15 percent on the crowds and television ratings for the Presidents Cup, which is at the famous composite course from 12-15 December.
Woods is the greatest front-runner ever, and he went into the final round knowing that he was 43 of 45 with the 54-hole outright lead. But he was nervous, dropping a shot at the 12th from the front trap, so that the lead was down to two shots.
Matsuyama missed a golden opportunity at the 14th from short range with a lip-out, then Woods birdied the 14th from four metres to take the lead back to three. The Japanese player would not let go. He made a bomb for birdie on the par-three 16th to strip it back to two, but Woods stayed rock solid coming in.
Matsuyama needed eagle at the par-five 18th to have a chance but could only make par, and Woods was in the fairway behind him, watching, knowing that even bogey would do it. From the front, right trap he got up and down, posting his fourth round in the 60s of the tournament, a .
Despite his struggles after winning the Masters at Augusta National last year, it is clear again now that his comeback – arguably the best in golf history and perhaps the best in all sports — is well and truly on again.
Snead’s record has stood since he won the Greater Greensboro Classic at 52 years of age in 1965.
Woods has been after it for some time and he came within one when he won the Masters last April. The record is often-quoted but somewhat questionable; many people believe that if you applied the same test to Woods’ record as the tour did to give Snead his 82 wins, Tiger should have been credited with more than 90 victories.
Whatever the case, legends like Jack Nicklaus (73 wins), Ben Hogan (64), and Arnold Palmer (62) are in his wake.
Woods can now jump ahead of Snead and there is not much doubt that he will. It shapes as a number that might never, ever be erased. In the 1980s, when he was around five years old, he played two holes against Snead in an exhibition in California. When he hit his tee shot into water at the first of those holes, a par three, he waded into the creek to hit his ball and Snead chided him.
Woods didn’t like it and has said so since. Instead of taking a drop, as the legendary Snead wanted, he hit the ball up on to the green and made bogey to Snead’s par. He never forget it, of course. Soon enough, old ‘Slammin Sam’ is going to lose that record.
And bring on Royal Melbourne in December…