They charged over the golf course like an army of ants, swarming after an uncovered cup of sugar. This, they knew, was going to be sweet.
Their target was the 18th hole and man in the signature Sunday red shirt, about to close out hIs round and win a championship, his first championship in a long, long time.
After four rounds, 72 holes, Tiger Woods was on top of the leader board once more and his fans loved it.
It took five years, four back surgeries, the embarrassment of a ranking of 1,199 just 10 months ago, and a DUI arrest, but Woods never gave up. And on one wonderful September Sunday, he won the 80th tournament of one of golf’s most remarkable careers.
He is now two tournament titles behind Sam Snead’s record 82 championships and suddenly, Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major titles is on his radar again. At age 42, and long after he was discarded as a serious threat, Tiger Woods is back.
This was no easy climb.
Woods had soared to the top of the golf world early, winning tournament after tournament including 14 majors. And then came the crash landing, problems physical and otherwise that snowballed both on and off the golf course.
Just as suddenly as Woods dominated the game, he became invisible. And he took his sport with him.
Golf came up with other young stars with compelling stories and a great game. People like Bubba Watson, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy won their share of events, but they were not Tiger Woods, who had a Svengali like hold on the fans when he played. He was like a Pied Piper on the course, demanding attention from the gallery and getting it in every tournament he played.
The game was a country club sport until Arnold Palmer arrived on the scene in the 1950’s and turned it into a mainstream activity. Arnie’s Army of fans followed him passionately and he rewarded them with championship golf. The same was true of Tiger Woods. Others played and won but they lacked the magical magnetism of Tiger.
From 1996 through 2009, Woods won 71 tournaments, And then, nothing. He went without a win in 2010 and 2011 and then spent 25 months away from golf from 2015-17. For two years, the red shirts were tucked away on Sundays as Tiger became a championship afterthought. His last major victory came in 2008. Nicklaus’ record seemed secure.
He worked hard at trying to rebuild his game and this year, it all began to come together. There were six top 10 finishes, including second place in the PGA, the final major of the season. The Tiger was roaring once more.
And so, as he walked up the green for the 18th hole at the Tour Championship event at Atlanta’s East Lake Course, the fans broke through the ropes for a closer look at this iconic star. And when Woods thrust his arms in the air after securing his two-stroke victory, it was as sweet for the gallery as that unguarded cup of sugar for the ants they resembled.