Zozo, the great return without Tiger Woods



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Zozo, the great return without Tiger Woods

It’s a big question, with big implications, and it might be premature even now. You try to put it out of mind, focus instead on the baseball playoffs, Scrabble, National Letter of Intent Day – anything to block out the question that gets louder the more you avoid it.

Time passes. And then you finally cave because you’re only human, just as he is. Tiger Woods won the 2019 ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, his 82nd victory leaving him level with Sam Snead atop the PGA TOUR’s all-time wins list.

And this week the TOUR returns to the same site in golf-mad Japan for the ZOZO. And so you wonder: What if that was his last win? Not last as in most recent, but last as in period, exclamation point, the end. What if that’s where this utterly spectacular gift of the last 25 years finally ends?

Tiger Woods, situation

We are coming to the end of a calendar year in which Woods was mostly out of sight, doing the hard work of rehab in private after a single-car accident in Los Angeles in February.

His legs took the brunt of it, surgeons inserting a rod into his right tibia, which had multiple fractures, and screws and pins into his right foot and ankle. He wore a cast, then a boot, then a sleeve. Initially, all that mattered was that he survived.

“Well, I think that the only thing that really matters now is his well-being,” PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan said in the sleep-starved hours immediately after the accident. “His recovery, his family, the level of support that we provide to him.

“Listen, when Tiger wants to talk about golf, we'll talk about golf,” he added. Indeed, the big takeaway in those days was simply that Woods’ kids, daughter Sam, son Charlie, still had a father. Said a shaken Rory McIlroy: “Golf is … not even on the map at this point”.

Now, though, it is on the map, albeit as a distant blip on the horizon. From his vocal support of the U.S. Ryder Cup team to his upcoming Hero World Challenge to his recent sighting at a junior tournament played by his son, Charlie, Woods is starting to talk about golf in his own understated way, just a little.

And because it’s Woods, a little means a lot. So here we are. Let’s talk. The first thing to know about Woods now is that he’s already won again, albeit unofficially, by reclaiming his health enough to attend his kids’ sporting events and graduations.

That he’s still in that game is a victory in and of itself, given how tenuous it all looked back in February. Next, you must embrace that it’s still early, relatively speaking, in his rehab. How much he’s been able to even chip and putt in his backyard remains unclear.

What’s more, he has defied seemingly every prediction for him as he won across three decades and four U.S. Presidents. “If we’ve learned anything over the years,” one of them, Barack Obama, tweeted after the crash as thoughts and prayers came flooding in, “it’s to never count Tiger out”.

True. Just look at victories 80, 81 and 82. When Woods won the 2018 TOUR Championship, he broke a five-year victory drought. When he won the 2019 Masters Tournament, after four operations on his back, including career-threatening fusion surgery, it was his first major since the 2008 U.S. Open. The ZOZO was his first start after another knee surgery, and he won despite bogeying his first three holes.