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Move over, Sammy, and make room for Tiger

Tiger Woods wins Zozo Championship in Japan for 82nd career victory, tying Sam Snead as PGA Tour's all-time winner and all but ending any Presidents Cup selection drama

Eighty-two wins in 24 PGA Tour seasons, five of which were dramatically reduced by injury or personal strife. That’s 82 victories in 359 career starts, a success rate of almost 23 percent in a game that refuses to acknowledge the laws of competitive superiority. This isn’t Roger Federer mopping the floor with a couple of legitimate rivals and a bunch of guys named Johan. In pro golf, 23 percent is akin to batting .400 or going 10 consecutive years without losing a heavyweight title bout.

They say that history repeats itself, an oxymoron derived from the convenience of modern hyperbole, with reality telling us that true historical occurrences simply don’t happen very often. Tiger Woods made real history in Japan earlier today with his 82nd Tour triumph, equaling the all-time mark established 54 years ago by Sam Snead, whose remarkable longevity applies not only to the length of time that he held sole ownership of the record, but the career that yielded it (scores).

PGA Championship 2019
Tiger Woods joins Sam Snead atop the PGA Tour’s all-time victory list, with 82.

Woods needed about 70 fewer starts than Snead to reach 82 – the Tour’s ultra-sketchy archive doesn’t identify the actual number of tournaments Slammin’ Sammy had played in before claiming his final title in 1965. That Tiger pulled even with Snead in Japan comes with a certain amount of irony: for just the fourth time since 2011, he was making his inaugural appearance at an event. This just happened to be the Tour’s official debut in the Land of the Rising Sun, leaving one to figure Camp Ponte Vedra coaxed Woods to no small effect in terms of his presence making that launch a success.

But enough preliminaries. As shoddy as Woods has looked at times since his earth-shaking Masters triumph in April, this was a stellar performance, his best 72-hole showing since that mega-ballyhooed comeback began in January 2018. Woods hit 28 of 39 fairways over the final three rounds on a short course that demanded accuracy off the tee, which set up the most lethal display of iron play we’ve seen from him in quite a while. Woods led the field in putting primarily because he spent much of the first 36 holes knocking in 5-footers for birdie.

It was his short game, however, that carried him on the weekend and made No. 82 a reality. On Narashino Country Club’s tightly mowed, heavily undulated areas bordering the greens, Woods routinely took care of business, usually with a low runner or a perfectly placed bump off a mound. He looked like a man who has been working on some things, which makes sense, given that Captain Woods also will be joining his team as a player in six weeks at the Presidents Cup.

Is it official? No, but only because Woods won’t formally announce his four at-large picks for the 12-man team until Nov. 4. That said, this is a done deal, and has been for a couple of months. Woods finished 13th in the U.S. standings, not bad for a part-time player, but his competitive presence in Australia means everything to the televising network (NBC) and all those grateful souls who work for the PGA Tour.

You don’t send perhaps the greatest golfer ever Down Under to sit in a golf cart with a walkie-talkie. Especially when he’s able-bodied. Especially when he’s coming off a landmark victory over a very strong field in Japan. Especially when he wants to play and has sent covert signals suggesting as much. Woods can be coy, but he’s way too smart to be sending the wrong message about his intentions at Royal Melbourne.

In that sense, triumph No. 82 serves as indisputable validation that he should be on the squad. Perhaps Woods wanted to prove to himself that he was Prez Cup-worthy with his performance in Japan, which qualifies as motivation in any language. From the bratty phenom who once considered national-team events a nuisance to the gung-ho skipper who will pilot as many Ryder/Presidents Cup teams as he wants, young Eldrick has evolved into a willing leader with unparalleled playing credentials.

Besides, who else is he going to pick? Patrick Reed? Rickie Fowler? Tony Finau? Seeing how U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland played the final 36 holes with Woods and did nothing to hurt his chances of making the squad, that leaves two spots for the aforementioned three guys. Reed won the first FedEx Cup playoff event but had a lousy year otherwise. Fowler won in Phoenix back in February but has done little since.

Finau, meanwhile, continues to perplex those who think he should be winning two or three times every year. He remains stuck on one Tour victory, that coming against a weak field at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. We’re talking about a player who has piled up $16.9 million in Tour earnings over the past five-plus seasons but has one very lonely trophy case. Reed and Fowler have strong team-match histories, which certainly should work in their favor when Woods sits down to finalize his selections.

At this point, Finau is the odd man out because the skipper is most definitely in. A guy with 82 career wins in his pocket knows his place, and it’s not in a golf cart at Royal Melbourne.