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For Tiger Woods, even reaching the Tour Championship is impressive

ATLANTA — Less than a year ago, Tiger Woods sat at a podium prior to the Presidents Cup and reckoned with his own golf mortality.

Coming off yet another surgery and yet another layoff, Woods was a vice captain for the team, a fancy name for “guy who grabs sandwiches.” He looked older, puffier, wearier by the day. Asked if there was a possibility that his days of competitive golf were behind him, Woods gave an answer remarkable in its honesty: “Yeah, definitely. I don’t know what my future holds for me.”

If, on that September 2017 afternoon, you’d laid down a bet that Woods would be teeing it up in the 2018 Tour Championship, the showcase for the season’s 30 top golfers on the PGA Tour, well, you’d be able to park your yacht next to Woods’ in the Bahamas.

On that day a year ago, Woods was ranked 1,199th in the world, with no expectation he’d ever go any higher. Today? He’s ranked 21st, with every expectation that he’ll break into the top 20 and beyond in the coming months. It’s an incredible, improbable rise, and only the fact that Woods hasn’t actually won anything is keeping this from being one of the top sports stories of the year.

“The season itself has been amazing, to be able to have played this well after coming off of what I came off of,” a leaner, more toned Woods said Wednesday at a pre-tournament news conference. “I didn’t know how many tournaments I’d play in, and next thing you know, here I am in the Tour Championship.”

Better every month of the year

Woods’ year has grown steadily more impressive — six top-10s across 17 events, two top-2 finishes including a memorable solo second to Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship last month. He’s only missed two cuts. He’s almost there, alllllmost there, but he knows he’s still got work to do.

“I haven’t driven it well, I haven’t hit my irons well, [or] I haven’t putted well,” Woods said. “It could be any of those facets of the game; I just haven’t put it all together at the same time.” Stats would bear that out; while he’s all over the map statistically in terms of driving distance and accuracy, he ranks fifth in shots gained overall and ninth in scoring average, suggesting that when one facet of his game is flailing, the others are strong enough to pick up most of the slack.

The Tour Championship’s hard line

Woods will join two dozen of the best players in the world starting Thursday. His odds of winning the FedEx Cup are vanishingly small — he’d basically need to send Bryson deChambeau, Dustin Johnson and the other leaders to the wrong course — but winning the Tour Championship itself? That’s very much a possibility, and Woods isn’t taking that lightly.

“In order to get into this event, I … earned my in here in being part of the top 30 most consistent players of the year and the best players of the year,” he said. “No exemptions into this event. Either you get here or you don’t. It’s a very hard line.”

It should come as no surprise that Woods says he expects to win. Forget that honesty from a year ago; Woods is now all about looking for the W. “I’m close to winning golf tournaments again, of putting the pieces together,” he said. “I’ve come close in a couple events toward the end of summer here, and it’s all about putting it all together at the right time.”

Woods, who won the Tour Championship in 1999 and 2007, tees off at 12:30 p.m. ET on Thursday alongside Tommy Fleetwood. And in one more sign that Woods is getting back to his old ways? He’s already entertaining the thought of making the U.S. Olympic team … in 2020.

Tiger Woods is back, again. (Getty)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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