CHIBA, Japan -- The journey to Japan was ostensibly about fulfilling corporate obligations, participating in a made-for-TV exhibition and getting in some reps following knee surgery and physical challenges that dogged Tiger Woods throughout the summer.
Nobody -- including Woods, if he is honest -- was thinking about a victory, and a record-tying one at that.
Woods finished off the final round of the Zozo Championship on Monday, holding off Hideki Matsuyama to win his 82nd career PGA Tour title, matching a 54-year-old record credited to Sam Snead, who notched the final victory of his Hall of Fame career at age 52 in 1965.
"Well, it's a big number,'' Woods said. "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. So it's about being consistent and doing it for a very long period of time. I've been very fortunate to have had the career I've had so far.
"To have won this tournament in Japan, it's just so ironic because I've always been a global player. I've always played all around the world, and to tie the record outside the United States is pretty cool.''
Woods has now won PGA Tour events in seven countries: the United States, Canada, Scotland, England, Ireland, Spain and Japan. (He has also won other titles in the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Germany and Thailand.)
Tiger Woods acknowledged his mother and father on Twitter, and President Donald Trump was among those to congratulate Woods via social media.
It's an honor to be tied with Sam Snead for most wins in @PGATOUR history. Thanks Mom and Pop and everyone who helped make this possible. Hideki put up an amazing fight on his home soil, but to do this in Japan is something I'll never forget. It's been an awesome year. pic.twitter.com/m9ICuVyJmX— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) October 28, 2019
I think @TigerWoods put it well after the @zozochamp when he said that the body doesn't allow him to do what he once did, but he can still think his way around a golf course. Congrats my friend! I wish I could shake your hand today, but I'm not sure I could get there in time.😉— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) October 28, 2019
The victory came in Woods' first start of the 2019-20 season at the first PGA Tour event to be contested in Japan. And despite his summer physical woes, Woods now has three PGA Tour victories in his past 14 starts. The victory moves him to No. 6 in the world.
That Woods managed to pull it off at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club is just as extraordinary -- in its own way -- as winning last year's Tour Championship and also the Masters for his 15th major title.
Those tournaments are bigger and carry far more weight in the game, but Woods was trending toward those triumphs. He showed plenty of form going into each tournament, and it was hardly a surprise at the time that he won either event.
A week ago, nobody knew what kind of game he had, least of all himself. His odds at Caesar's were 40-1.
"I just told him, 'You never cease to amaze me,''' said Mark Steinberg, Woods' longtime agent. "I did not see this coming.''
It was only a month ago that Woods truly began playing golf again after arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 20. Woods admitted all of his golf in recent weeks was in a cart. "It's a little bit different than when you have to walk out here,'' Woods said.
When he competed in the skins game challenge along with Matsuyama, McIlroy and Jason Day on Oct. 21, his game was so sketchy early on that he missed a par-3 green so badly his ball hit a cart path and rolled halfway back to the tee.
Then he opened the tournament Thursday with three consecutive bogeys -- according to Elias, no player dating to 1983 has gone on to win a tournament after doing that -- and you figured it might be a struggle for him to be respectable.
But Woods then turned it around in a big way. He made nine birdies over his final 14 holes to tie Gary Woodland for the first-round lead with a 64. After a day off due to storms, he had seven more birdies in Round 2 to take a 2-shot advantage through 36 holes. A third-round 66 meant a 3-shot lead over Matsuyama after 54 holes; he had gone on to win all 24 times he previously held an advantage that large.
"His ballstriking was a joke; his distance control was something I've never seen,'' said Woodland, who played the final two rounds with Woods. "He looked like the best player in the world. It was impressive to watch.''
When play was suspended Sunday, Woods still led by 3. But the temperature was considerably cooler than it had been all week, and Woods appeared to be a bit stiff, certainly compared to the fluid movement he had shown throughout the tournament.
He bogeyed the tough par-4 12th and the lead dropped to 2, but he got it back with a nice birdie putt at the 14th after watching Matsuyama miss from 3 feet on the hole in front of him. When Matsuyama birdied the 16th, Woods again led by just 2. But a miss from 15 feet at the 17th by Matsuyama meant a 2-shot cushion with two holes to play. Woods birdied the 18th for the final margin of victory.
For the week, Woods led the field in birdies with 27, and he hit 55 of 72 greens while taking 111 putts, averaging 27.8 per round. A putting tip from his friend Rob McNamara -- moving his hands farther forward -- proved to be a big help. "He just kept reminding me because I tend to forget things like that.''
The victory came nearly 23 years to the day from when he won his first tour title, at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational. Woods had been a pro for a matter of weeks and beat Davis Love III in a playoff.
While much has been made of Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' major championship record of 18, it would have been impossible to foresee way back then that he could approach Snead's number.
"I probably thought about [the record] when I got north of 50, but then unfortunately I went through some rough patches with my back and didn't play for a number of years, so that record seemed like it was out of reach,'' Woods said. "Having had my fourth back procedure and being able to come back and play at a decently high level again, it put the number back in the conversation again.
"Lo and behold, here we are tied.''