By Andrew Both
CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) – Tiger Woods won the Zozo Championship by three strokes on Monday, matching Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour victories before saying he hoped to be playing at the highest level at the same ripe old age as the man whose mark he now shares.
Snead was 52 when he clinched his final tour victory in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1965, while Woods has matched the mark at age 43, and seems destined to break it and then some as long as his fragile body holds up.
“Well, it’s a big number,” Woods said after shooting a closing three-under-par 67 that was enough to hold off a challenge from Hideki Matsuyama at Narashino Country Club in the first PGA Tour event played in Japan.
“Unfortunately I went through some rough patches with my back and didn’t play for a number of years, so that record (of Snead’s) seemed like it was out of reach.
“It’s about 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.
“As far as playing until 52, I hope that’s the case. 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.”
Woods, who had to play seven holes on Monday in the weather-affected event, finished at 19-under 261 in his first tournament since undergoing arthroscopic left knee surgery two months ago.
It was the latest in a long list of surgeries for Woods, including a 2017 spinal fusion that fixed searing back and leg pain and resurrected a career that appeared destined to end prematurely.
It took 23 years for Woods to tie Snead’s record. His first victory came in Las Vegas in 1996, in his fifth start as a professional, and his list of 82 wins includes 15 major championships, the most recent at the Masters at Augusta National in April.
His 2019 performances post-Masters had been mediocre, something he attributes to knee pain that also affected his back and his swing.
“The knee wasn’t allowing me to rotate and because of that it put more stress on my lower back and hip,” he said.
“I didn’t really know I’d come back and play at this level but the fact I could get down and read putts again is something I hadn’t done in months. Something pretty subtle makes a difference. I felt more comfortable with my putter just because I was able to make a better stance.
“Ironically my back has been less sore. I’ve been able to rotate better. The way I started this week, who would have thought, bogeying the first three holes, I’d shoot the number I shot. I made a few mistakes this week but they weren’t bad.”
Woods resumed at 7.30 a.m. on Monday with a three-shot advantage over Matsuyama, and took a while to find his stride, making a bogey right off the bat after dumping his approach shot into a bunker at the par-four 12th.
But he held on and a 10-foot birdie at the par-five 18th put the cherry on the cake for Woods, who reacted in understated fashion as though it was just another day in the office, perhaps more relieved than elated.
“It’s been a long week, five days at the top of the board is a long time,” he said.
“It was definitely stressful.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Richard Borsuk)