ATLANTA • Eighteen months ago, Tiger Woods needed help getting out of bed.
Back injuries had derailed his golf career, and he was about to have his fourth operation, a last-resort effort to get back on his feet.
His primary goal was to regain enough mobility to play with his two children, not against the best golfers in the world.
On Sunday, Woods fought back tears on the final hole of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club as he claimed his first PGA Tour victory in more than five years since winning the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
The win completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in sports history and answered doubts about whether the 42-year-old American could ever be himself again, the most dominant force golf has ever seen.
"I just can't believe I pulled this off. I was having a hard time not crying coming up the last hole," said Woods, who walked off the 18th green to a big kiss from girlfriend Erica Herman and a hug from agent Mark Steinberg as security tried to keep the frenzied fans at bay.
"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 had flirted with victory several times this year, mounting thrilling late charges that enraptured galleries but ultimately fizzled. He finally triumphed in vintage form on Sunday with a performance that was magical and methodical.
Tiger tributes on Twitter
BEST WISHES FROM ANOTHER CHAMP
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, American swim great, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals, using a popular acronym for "greatest of all time".
I'M NOT CRYING. YOU'RE CRYING!!!!! This is absolutely incredible!! Major goosebumps.
MICHELLE WIE, American golfer.
More Incredible @TigerWoods! One of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time. #GOAT
GARETH BALE, Welsh and Real Madrid football star.
PRAISE FROM TRUMP
Tiger is playing great. Looks like a big win could happen. Very exciting! @TigerWoods
UNITED STATES PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
EVEN BETTER THAN BEFORE
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, 18-time golf Major champion.
Small slips on the back nine provided extra drama, but Woods would not be denied.
With the massive gallery chanting his name as they stampeded down the final fairway, he shot a one-over 71 for the day and 11-under for the win, beating the runner-up Billy Horschel by two strokes.
Woods moved to within two victories of Sam Snead's all-time record of 82 PGA Tour titles, and would have also won the FedExCup and a US$10 million (S$13.6 million) bonus - awarded to the winner of the Tour's season-long points race - had England's Justin Rose not picked up a birdie on the last hole.
Not that it mattered to Woods, who started the season with questions over whether he would even be able to play a full schedule after undergoing spinal fusion surgery in April last year.
"My body was a wreck. 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," recalled Woods, who rose to world No. 13 following his victory.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus believes Woods has a realistic chance of matching his record tally of 18 Major championships. Woods looked destined to surpass Nicklaus when he clinched his 14th Major at the 2008 US Open before his career went off the rails after a sex scandal and then a debilitating back injury.
"With today's equipment, and the way the guys take care of themselves, I think they could play well into their 50s," the 78-year-old told the Golf Channel. "Maybe Tiger's got another 40 Majors to play. Out of 40 Majors, can he win five of them? I don't know.
"He's playing well enough. It depends how much he wants to work at it, how interested he is, and how long he wants to make a commitment to do that."
NY TIMES, REUTERS
The last time Tiger won a PGA Tour title
Before Tiger Woods' triumph at the Tour Championship on Sunday, his last PGA Tour win came at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational tournament in August 2013, when he cruised to a seven-stroke victory with a 15-under 265 total at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. It was his 18th World Golf Championships victory and 79th PGA Tour title.