In Depth

Year of the Tiger: golf’s GOAT proves he is the master once again

From a green jacket to the Presidents Cup, it’s been a memorable 12 months for golfing icon Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods ended 2019 the same way he started it. As a winner.

Woods’s unforgettable year all started 245 days ago, at The Masters Tournament, when he won his first major championship in 11 years and first green jacket for 14 years. 

It continued into late October, when he matched Sam Snead at the top of the PGA Tour’s all-time wins list with his 82nd career victory at The ZOZO Championship.

And it ended in Australia, at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, where he willed Team United States to a stirring 16-14 win at the Presidents Cup over a formidable International Team. The group did so behind the strength of playing captain Woods, who was the only player on either side to win all of his matches. 

With three wins out of three in Melbourne, 43-year-old Woods has now reached 27 career wins in the Presidents Cup, passing Phil Mickelson for most career victories in the biennial event’s 25-year history.

It was a poetic ending to one of the best years in the sport’s storied history.

“It was pretty awesome to play for the greatest player ever,” said Matt Kuchar, who clinched the US victory with a birdie at No.17 on Sunday. 

“To have a chance to make a team captained by the greatest player ever that is also a player on the team. I can’t tell you how unique, how cool of a thing that is, to not only play for him but alongside him.

“For us to be in a hole and to come back and win this thing was such a thrill. One, to win it as a team, but to do it with Tiger Woods as our captain was just a huge thrill.”

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Team United States captain Tiger Woods celebrates during the Presidents Cup

Captain sets the tone 

Woods was overcome with emotion following his team’s comeback victory, and for good reason.

Since the moment he was officially named Team US captain at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Californian has viewed his position with both responsibility and pride. 

From the outset, Woods - ever the competitor that he is - made it his mission to once more beat his longtime rival Ernie Els, captain of this year’s International Team. He got it. 

“I’ve cried in pretty much every cup we’ve won,” said Woods. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Any time you have a moment where you’re able to do something that is bigger than us as an individual is so much more meaningful and so much more special.” 

Woods’s moment did not come easy, however. Team US trailed all three days before their stirring comeback in the Sunday singles, as the analytics-minded Els seemed to play every matchup correctly.

A dominant display by the US on the final day clinched their eighth consecutive win in the series, and it all started with Captain Woods setting the tone.

He went out first on Sunday against Abraham Ancer, who led the International Team alongside fellow rookie Sungjae Im with 3.5 points. But the Mexican never led against Woods, who put together a 3&2 victory to begin the US comeback.

Team US player Tony Finau said: “Tiger, the story of his resilience, coming back from what he has with injuries and everything that he’s been through, I think each of us believed in each other because we know we could do what we did, and we really believed that we could win the cup. 

“We are very inspired to play for Tiger, with Tiger, and it’s so satisfying to win this cup because of that. I think we all believe in each other and we were able to get the job done for our captain and playing captain.”

Tiger Woods celebrates his Masters victory at Augusta National Golf Club

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Greatest of all time 

It is Woods’s job to share credit for this win, which moved Team US to 11 victories at the Presidents Cup. But his own players and captain’s assistants were quick to applaud their leader.

“I love seeing other people cry, especially Tiger Woods,” said assistant Steve Stricker. “Tiger did an unbelievable job. It was a privilege. And we’ll keep this on the forefront of our minds forever.”

Woods’s performance in Australia brought things full circle in 2019. After tying Sam Snead at the top of the all-time PGA Tour wins list two months ago, he did it once more when he became the first playing captain to go undefeated in his team’s victory since Snead at the 1959 Ryder Cup.

It capped a superb year for a player is who regarded as golf’s greatest of all time (GOAT).

“All of us will look back and have these pictures hanging on our walls and say we played for and alongside Tiger Woods, the greatest player ever,” said Kuchar. “It was awesome.”

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