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Storylines of the Year, No. 4: Woods ties Snead with 82 PGA Tour wins

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GolfChannel.com is counting down the top storylines of 2019. Here's a look at Nos. 10-6 and those that just missed the cut.

No. 5 was the  the "simplified" Rules of Golf and No. 4 on our list is Tiger Woods' record-tying 82nd PGA Tour win at the Zozo Championship in Japan.

 

WHY IT MATTERED

At the depths of Tiger Woods’ struggles with injury and age, the noise that always followed him echoed with a familiar theme. To many, Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major championships ended in 2008 when he won his 14th Grand Slam title.

A career that was always going to be measured by majors had gone from official hiatus to forced retirement, or so some thought. But as the questions and concerns persisted, Woods set about changing the narrative by suggesting that it was Sam Snead’s 82 and not Jack’s 18 that he was fixated on.

For Woods, Snead’s all-time PGA Tour victory mark of 82 was both immediate and easier to digest. He had, after all, won 14 times since his last major triumph at Torrey Pines in ’08. He also always believed that if he was healthy, he still had the game to catch Snead.

If Nicklaus’ benchmark felt like a longshot in some circles, Woods’ pursuit of Snead’s record was somehow more realistic. That optimism grew with each start in 2018 following his fourth back procedure.

Tiger's 82 PGA Tour wins easy to appreciate

In Japan it’s called an enthronement, but most would consider it a coronation. Either way, there were two such grand occasions last week in Tokyo.

He finished second at the Valspar Championship and was back in the hunt the next week at Bay Hill, where he tied for fifth place before closing the season with top-10 finishes in the year’s final three majors. The breakthrough came at the Tour Championship, where he dominated the field for victory No. 80.

“To kind of get to the 80 mark is a big number. Sam is still ahead of me. I've still got a chance to play some more golf and maybe I'll keep chipping away at that number and maybe surpass it,” he said at East Lake. “I just think that what I've gone through and what I've dealt with, I've gotten lucky, to be honest with you. I've gotten very lucky.”

Woods’ “luck” only got better in 2019, when he delivered a commanding performance at Augusta National for major No. 15 and Tour title No. 81.

Although his one-stroke victory over Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka reignited the debate over whether or not he’d reach Nicklaus’ Grand Slam haul, for Woods it moved him to within a single trophy of tying Snead. For a player who has carved out a Hall of Fame career by focusing on the process, and not the outcome, being so close to a lifelong goal was impossible to ignore.

“To get into those numbers it takes longevity and hot years. I think you need multiple winning seasons. You need to do that for decades. That's something I'm proud of,” Woods said in June. “That's not something that happens overnight. To be able to come this close to get to one behind Sam Snead has been pretty amazing. It's been a pretty amazing run throughout my 20 some-odd years out here.”

 

HOW IT PLAYED OUT

When Woods arrived in Japan for the Zozo Championship in October, expectations were surprisingly low for the 43-year-old.

Since the emotional high of his Masters victory, he’d posted just a single top-10 finish (a tie for ninth at the Memorial) and missed the cut at the year’s final two majors. More concerning was his withdrawal from The Northern Trust with an oblique strain.

After being bounced from the playoffs early, Woods announced he underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee on Aug. 27. It was the fifth procedure on his left knee dating to 1994, when he was an amateur and Woods earmarked the new event in Japan as his return date.

“I spoke with him a couple weeks ago and he said he was doing really well, but I told him it’s always different when you have a scorecard in your hand,” Davis Love III said prior to the Zozo Championship.

Those expectations didn’t improve when Woods lost a skins game to Jason Day on the Monday before the tournament and appeared to struggle with both his ball-striking and short game.


Tiger: 'I know how it feels to have this game taken away from you'

Tiger: 'I know how it feels to have this game taken away from you'

“It was nice to get out there and compete,” Woods said following The Challenge: Japan Skins. “To get back in the flow of things. My range of motion, my strength, is there again. I just have to work my way back and hope I find a feel for the round quickly.”

As Love predicted, it was different when the tournament started. Woods opened with a 64 that included birdies on four of his final five holes for a share of the lead and matched that score in Round 2 for a two-stroke lead.

Heavy rain from a passing typhoon washed out Round 2 and officials scrambled to finish the event on time, which meant early starts and late finishes for a player with a fused back and a recently repaired knee.

“It's going to be a bit of a test physically and mentally to play for, what, up to 10 hours. So, it's going to be a long day,” Woods said following the second round.

Woods aced both the physical and mental test, extending his lead to three shots with a third-round 66 and enduring a grueling finish that spilled over to Monday, holding off local hero Hideki Matsuyama to tie Snead with his 82nd Tour victory.

Although he’s been reluctant throughout his career to put his numerous accomplishments into perspective, Woods admitted following his victory that he started thinking about Snead’s record when he eclipsed 50 Tour victories.

“Unfortunately, I went through some rough patches with my back and didn't play for a number of years, so that record seemed like it was out of reach,” Woods said. “Having had my fourth back procedure and being able to come back and play at a decently high level again, it put the number back in the conversation again. Lo and behold, here we are tied.”

While the world fixated on his pursuit of Nicklaus’ major mark it was Snead’s record and the demands of prolonged consistency that’s driven Woods through injury and back to competitive relevance.

 

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