Tiger Woods no longer wins tournaments before they start like he used to by intimidating the field into submission. His wins are more difficult, less dominant, but still exemplify his mental toughness, grit, and imaginative shotmaking that has won him 14 majors.
On Sunday, Woods won the Players Championship, considered the Tour’s fifth major, by two strokes, finishing at -13 for the tournament. This was his second career Players title.
“I know a lot of people in this room that thought I was done,” Woods said, defiantly saying he is “getting better as the years go on.”
Woods and nemesis Sergio Garcia, the mercurial Spaniard with whom he exchanged words after a rain-shortened third round, were tied with two holes to play.
But how they reacted after hitting their balls into the water showed why Woods has become the ultimate winner after their epic 1999 PGA Championship showdown at Medinah and Garcia has been perceived as a whiner.
After Woods hit his ball in the water on the 14th hole while up two shots and looking like he was going to run away from the field, he gathered himself after making double-bogey on the hole to salvage a par on the 15th hole.
Woods said he made a “sweet save” for par on the 15th and that was when “the tide turned.”
Garcia, tied with Woods with two holes to play, hit his approach shot into the water on the 17th hole. And then he did it again. He also hit his approach to the 18th in the water and played the last two holes 6 over par as the Spaniard wilted and collapsed under pressure like he has for the last decade.
On one of golf’s grandest stages, Garcia and Woods displayed what has separated the two golfers many thought would be rivals for two decades.
That rivalry never came to fruition. Woods has now won 78 times, four shy of Sam Snead’s record of 82. This was the earliest Woods has reached four wins in a season and he has now won seven of his last 21 stroke-play events. He has only lost four times in his career after leading after 54 holes.
Just like he did in his 100th and 200th starts, Woods won his 300th start PGA Tour start, which includes starts as an amateur.
He said the Pete Dye course was a “tough course” and, in an understatement, he was not the only one who has struggled on the course.
When asked if he would beat an 18-year-old Tiger Woods in match play, Woods simply answered, “I would win that.”
Nobody asked him if he could pass Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors and even win 20 or more.
But if someone had, Woods would have answered, “yes.” Or given a defiant glare that said that is the only reason why he is still playing–and chasing.