American golfer Tiger Woods has clinched his first title victory on a professional tour in more than five years, completing a comeback after struggling with injuries and personal problems.
The former world number one triumphed by two strokes at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, Georgia, for his 80th tournament win over a 22-year career.
“I was having a hard time not crying coming up the last hole,” the 42-year-old golfer said. “All of a sudden it started hitting me I was going to win the tournament.
“I’ve been sitting on 79 (wins) for five years now. To get 80 is a pretty damn good feeling,” Woods added.
The victory capped off a season that started with questions over whether Woods, now 10 years removed from his 14th major title, would even be able to play a full schedule after undergoing his fourth back surgery in April 2017.
“My body was a wreck,” recalled Woods, who hoped the operation would alleviate debilitating back and leg pain.
“The low point was not knowing whether I would be able to live pain-free again.
“I was beyond playing. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t lay down without feeling the pain in my back and leg.”
On Sunday, at the East Lake Golf Club course, Woods played a final round of 71 on the par to finish ahead of fellow Americans Billy Horshel and Dustin Johnson and capped off a memorable win.
Hobbled by back problems since 2014, Woods underwent spinal fusion surgery a year ago and returned to competition in December.
The California native has struggled both on and off the golf course since winning his 79th PGA title in Akron, Ohio, in 2013.
In May 2017, Woods was arrested in Florida and charged with driving under the influence.
Woods has not won a major title since news of an extramarital affair that led to his divorce from his ex-wife, Swedish model Elin Nordegren, in 2010.
Amid the scandals and injury woes, a lot of sports writers and golf analysts had written the legend off.
But on Sunday, fellow golfers, fans and celebrity athletes took to social media to hail the “comeback of all comebacks”.
“From one goat (greatest of all time) to another I can only imagine what @TigerWoods is feeling today,” tweeted Michael Phelps, the most successful athlete in Olympic history. “Pumped to be watching this today!! Have fun out there today my man!!!”
From one goat to another I can only imagine what @TigerWoods is feeling today… pumped to be watching this today!! Have fun out there today my man!!!
— Michael Phelps (@MichaelPhelps) September 23, 2018
“No words! Just Tiger!” wrote world number one tennis player Rafael Nadal on Instagram.
I don't care what anyone says.
My golfing hero is doing something remarkable just now. 1 year ago he started hitting golf balls after spinal fusion surgery. Now he's 4 holes away from win number 80…
— Si Marshall °o°🏎⚽⛳🏌️♂️ (@skillschampion2) September 23, 2018
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) September 24, 2018
Woods is still two wins short of Sam Sneads’ record of 82 PGA titles and five wins away from surpassing 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus.
“I never dreamed Tiger Woods would come back and swing the way he has after surgery. I think you could argue he is swinging better than he has ever in his life,” Nicklaus said on Twitter.
I never dreamed @TigerWoods could come back and swing the way he has, after surgery. I think you could argue he’s swinging better than he has ever in his life. He has played fantastically!
— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) September 23, 2018
Woods, widely regarded as one of the greatest golfers in the world, has been an influential figure for the sport with his star appeal and multimillion-dollar endorsements.
With career earnings of almost $1.7bn, he is the second-highest paid athlete of all time after Michael Jordan, according to Forbes magazine.
“Despite an influx of talented young players in recent years, golf just hasn’t been the same since Woods went away, his brilliant career derailed by debilitating injuries and personal demons,” wrote Paul Newberry, sports columnist for the Associated Press news agency.
“Tiger Woods is back. And golf is better for it,” he added.
According to NBC analyst Roger Maltbie, Woods “doesn’t just move the needle, he is the needle.”
Several times this season, at the British Open and the USPGA Championship, Woods came close to winning but couldn’t close the deal.
“When you have such a long time between victories, getting that first one is the most important,” Robert Littal, editor at website Blacksportsonline, told Al Jazeera.
“He’s had so many injuries, so much drama, just a lot of stuff surrounding him, and he’s been close a few times,” he said.
“I think now that he’s gotten over the hump, you may see more of the old Tiger that we’ve all been waiting for over the last couple of years.”
“The golfing world is back to normal” #TigerWoods
— Ed Chamberlin (@chamberlinsport) September 23, 2018
What a year, what a day. Lots to be happy about in the world of golf. Big congrats to @TigerWoods on the W, truly happy for him and all the hard work that’s been put in. Golf couldn’t be in a better place
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) September 24, 2018
Tiger Woods has just secured another PGA title win.
Eminem is #1 on the Billboard charts.
Jurassic Park & The Incredibles are box office hits.
After 15 long years – the world finally returns to normal.
— Koshiek Karan (@iamkoshiek) September 23, 2018