ATLANTA — Could this be the day? After five years and 50 days, after surgeries and off-course drama that would have torpedoed half a dozen lesser players’ careers, could Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 be the day Tiger Woods once again wins a tournament?
Woods enters the final day of the 2018 PGA Tour season in a stunning, completely unexpected position: the lead. Woods leads the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta by three strokes, and now we get to see how well Tiger 2.0 — or Tiger 3.0, or Tiger 4.0, depending on how you count such things — handles the pressure of playing with a lead.
He’s got history to back him up. This marks the 58th time on Tour Woods has entered the final round with at last a share of the lead, and he won 53 of the previous 57. His record when holding the solo lead is even better: 42 wins in 44 tournaments. Woods sits at -12 thanks to a 65-68-65 run highlighted by six birdies in his first seven holes on Saturday.
The competition won’t go easy on Woods
The competition lurks. Rory McIlroy is three strokes back, as is world No. 1 Justin Rose. Either one of those players could get hot and run down Woods; McIlroy remains, pound for pound, the best in the game when his putter is on. He won the 2016 Tour Championship coming from two strokes behind to force a playoff and yank the trophy out of the hands of Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell. Rose, for his part, is playing some of the best golf on the planet right now, and he’s got experience playing fan-favorite spoiler, having knocked off Phil Mickelson in the 2013 U.S. Open.
Even so, this tournament is in Woods’ hands. He’s played exceptionally well, unexpectedly so, in his return from his latest injury layoff. Less than a year ago, he wasn’t sure he’d even be playing golf again professionally at all, and now he’s facing down the best of the next generation the same way he throttled the two previous ones.
His comeback has been stunning, but it’s had that asterisk: no wins. A victory today would shrink that asterisk to microscopic size, and would set up the most anticipated Masters in a generation. It all starts at 2:05 Eastern when Woods tees off.
But seriously: does this look like a man who’s ready to lose?
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