INZAI CITY, Japan (AP) — For Tiger Woods, it all comes down to consistency.
Surgeries on his knee and back and a crisis in his personal life have cost him opportunities to play his best golf over the past decade. But when he’s been healthy and free from off-course distractions, he’s always found ways to win. And now, he’s won as much as anybody on the PGA Tour.
Woods completed a wire-to-wire victory at the Zozo Championship on Monday, equaling Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record of 82 victories.
“It’s a big number,” Woods said. “It’s a lot of consistency and doing it for a long period of time, Sam did it into his 50s and I’m in my early to mid-40s, so it’s about being consistent and doing it for a very long period of time. I’ve been very fortunate to have the career I’ve had so far.”
The 43-year-old returned Monday to play the final seven holes in the rain-hit tournament, completing a 3-under 67 to beat local favorite Hideki Matsuyama by three strokes at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.
Woods had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee two months ago — his fifth on the same problem joint. He’s also had four back surgeries, including a spinal fusion, and looked at times as if his career was over, but he returned to win the Tour Championship in 2018 before his triumph at the Masters in April for his 15th major.
The Japan event was Woods’ first start of his 23rd season on the PGA Tour.
“I can still manage my way around the golf course,” Woods said. “I know how to play. I was able to do that this week.”
The fourth round was suspended because of darkness Sunday with Woods holding a three-stroke lead over Matsuyama in the first official PGA Tour event in Japan.
He bogeyed his first hole of the day, the par-4 12th, but was solid the rest of the way with birdies on Nos. 14 and 18 to finish at 19-under 261. Matsuyama also closed with a 67.
Woods opened with consecutive 64s, with a day off in between because of rain. He had a 66 on Sunday in the third round.
“It’s been a long week,” Woods said. “Five days at the top of the leaderboard is a long time.”
As the U.S. Presidents Cup captain, Woods was asked about picking himself for the team.
“I think the player got the captain’s attention,” Woods said.
Woods’ approach shot on the 12th found a greenside bunker. He blasted out and left himself a long par putt that he missed for bogey, cutting the lead to two strokes.
But that was the only time he would falter.
Matsuyama missed a short birdie putt on the par-5 14th with a chance to cut the lead to a stroke. Woods, playing in the group behind Matsuyama, made birdie to restore the three-stroke lead.
Matsuyama cut the lead to two with a birdie on par-3 16th. On the par-5 18th, he drove into a fairway bunker, and hit his approach into a greenside bunker before saving par.
Woods’ second shot on 18 also found a greenside bunker. He blasted to 10 feet and made the putt.
Woods last played in an official tournament in Japan in 2006 at the Dunlop Phoenix, where he lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington. He won the Dunlop Phoenix the two previous years.
It was a wild debut for the PGA in Japan. Torrential rain washed out play Friday, forcing the second round to be moved to Saturday. To make up for the lost day, the players started the fourth round immediately after finishing the third to get in as many holes as possible.
The course took on over 8 inches of rain Friday and was in remarkably good shape when play resumed on Saturday for the second round.
Woods got in 11 holes and played 29 holes Sunday before having to come back for a 7:30 a.m. start.
“This was certainly demanding,” Woods said “Being in the lead for the better part of five days puts a stress on the mind. It’s not easy to do. … It’s stressful, it wears one out, but somehow I was able to finish out on top and made key putts this week.”
Rory McIlroy, the highest-ranked player in the field, completed his round with two birdies for a 67 to tie for third at 13 under with Sungjae Im, who shot 65.
And at the end of a long week of golf, Woods was still talking about consistency when asked if he could envision winning in his 50s like Snead did.
“As far as playing until 52, I hope that’s the case,” Woods said. “If you would have asked me a few years ago, I would have given you a different answer, but certainly the future looks brighter than it has and hopefully I can be as consistent as he was well into my 40s and early 50s.”
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