Kilbridge: Tiger Woods completes comeback for ages with 80th Tour win

Thousands of bodies followed Tiger Woods down the 18th fairway Sunday at East Lake.

They’ve been behind him all year and they were behind him right then, watching as Woods completed the greatest comeback in sports history by winning the 2018 Tour Championship.

Career win No. 80 is Woods’ most impressive because of how he got there, five confusing, pain-filled years after No. 79.

Let’s think about what happened over those five years. The chipping yips, the back problems, the very public embarrassing moments, the tournament withdrawals. We didn’t know how Woods’ career would actually end, officially. It was hard to come up with any scenarios that were positive. Definitely none that were fitting for such a legend.

What happened Sunday was fitting because it was so unlikely, one of those things that only Woods could pull off.

What did he pull off, exactly?

Let’s start with the fact that he barely played golf in 2016-17. Golf is mostly about reps, and Woods wasn’t healthy enough to get any practice in. Definitely wasn’t healthy enough to play tournaments. He could barely get out of bed some days.

Let’s remember that over that period of time, Nike got out of the golf equipment business. Woods played Nike clubs for the majority of his career and slowly went about phasing them out of his bag. He found a new TaylorMade driver and woods that worked and they went in play to start the season. He debuted a new set of irons at Augusta National, finally looking completely comfortable with them a few months later at the British Open and even more so two weeks later at Bellerive.

Let us also be sure not to forget that Woods is 42 years old, he’s had four back surgeries and is the first to ever attempt to swing as fast as he does after undergoing a spinal fusion. It was all uncharted territory and there was no one he could go to for advice.

He ditched his latest swing coach, Chris Como, in the winter and decided to go at it alone.

Woods’ ability, equipment, health and strategy were all complete mysteries at the start of the year.

What he did in nearly winning the Valspar Championship back in March is a ridiculous testament to his raw talent. He’d been on the shelf and out of sorts for two years and still, without even really knowing his swing, he batted it around Innisbrook and nearly won from the get-go.

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 23: Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates with caddie Joe LaCava after making a par on the 18th green to win the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 23, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods celebrates with caddie Joe LaCava after closing out the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club Sunday. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Anyone spouting the idea Woods couldn’t win again after that was a true skeptic’s skeptic.

Woods has always been a competitor and he did it as well as anyone on Tour this year. He did it when he wasn’t playing very well, fighting hard to make the cut at the Players Championship and at Quail Hollow.

High as he got this season, all the way to the Tour Championship win at East Lake, the lack of lows is just as notable. The guy hasn’t shot higher than 73 since the first round of the U.S. Open. He only missed two cuts in 17 starts. He was a very good, competitive golfer immediately out of the gates, which is insane when you think about how the odds were stacked against him.

The swing steadily improved all year, got more repeatable, and by the time he reached the playoffs he had a consistent swing with the driver. He was pummeling fairways. His irons were pure as ever and he was shaping shots only a handful of guys on the planet can pull off again. The putting came and went and people wondered about it but there’s only so many ways to explain that sometimes the ball stays above ground by the narrowest of margins.

The transformation happened over the course of the season and it happened very quickly and Sunday it culminated in the greatest win of his career and, with apologies to Ben Hogan, the greatest comeback in sports history.

He’s the most famous athlete of all time, he’s had pain of all sorts and he fell to unfathomable depths not that long ago. He seemed broken.

Sunday at East Lake, swarmed by the fans who never stop begging for more, 42-year-old Tiger Woods looked complete as he’s ever been. Gwk

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