FOR the thousands who cheered Tiger Woods to his 80th PGA Tour win – and his first for five years – this was a genuine “I was there” occasion.
With Tiger in this mood, the 51,000 fans who will flock to Le National on each of the three days of this week’s Ryder Cup are in for a treat – even if it does not bode well for Europe’s chance of regaining the trophy.
Woods, 42, brushed aside 29 of the best players in the world with an ease that bordered on contempt, strolling to a two-stroke victory at the Tour Championship.
He tightened up towards the end, as if he had almost forgotten how to finish a tournament off.
But overall, the past week has been vintage Tiger. And after a gap of 1,876 days, 49 tournaments, and four back operations, normal service has been resumed.
Woods started three shots clear and the record books – which include quite a few entries under the name of ‘Eldrick Tont Tiger Woods’ – tell us he NEVER relinquishes leads that big.
This was the 24th time in a row he has converted that sort of 54 hole advantage into a victory.
Few of them can have been much easier than this. A one over par 71 got the job done, with the fast-finishing Bill Horschel claiming second.
You got the feeling Woods could have gone lower if he had needed to.
But with no-one threatening his lead, Woods was on cruise control, concentrating on limiting mistakes rather than chasing birdies – and three back nine bogeys suggested he should have stuck to a more aggressive game plan.
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It was still a virtual procession from the moment he rammed home a putt from ten feet three inches on the opening hole, for the birdie that extended his lead to four.
It was as if everyone else immediately caught a severe case of Tiger-phobia, the dreaded affliction that Ernie Els admitted to when Woods was at his absolute peak from 2000-2008, the years that yielded 12 of his 14 Majors.
So much for the far greater depth of talent these days. But it was nice that so many of his peers turned up to watch him win.
Throughout his career, playing partner Rory McIlroy had longed for a showdown with a Tiger somewhere near is best. Be careful what you wish for.
The four-time Major champion was like a rabbit in the headlights – and cuddly bunnies to not take down big cats, especially when they throw in three bogeys and a double in the first eight holes. McIlroy eventually signed for a four over par 74.
Like McIlroy, Justin Rose started three shots back, and the Englishman is a worthy world No1 on the basis of his incredible consistency over the past 13 months – 20 top tens from 27 starts, including four wins and the same number of seconds.
But he was again playing for second place again from the moment he allowed Woods to move five clear by bogeying the fifth hole.
A closing 73 meant Rose had to settle for a share of fourth. A £7.6million cheque as overall FedEx Cup champion was handsome consolation – but he needed a final hole birdie to prevent that slipping away.
It has been an astonishing turnaround in fortunes for Woods.
Just nine months ago he put his ball on the tee at the Hero Challenge ranked 1,199th in the world, praying the complicated surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his back would succeed where three previous operations had failed.
This victory will lift him from 21st to 13th in the rankings. And who would rule out a 12th stint at the very top of the pile before too long?