Woods proud to be back at East Lake for FedEx Cup finale

Tiger Woods indicates the direction of the wind before teeing off on the third hole during the final round of the Dell Technologies Championship on Sept. 3 at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. Woods once took for granted that he would end his season at the Tour Championship. Now, just being at East Lake feels like an accomplishment. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)
Tiger Woods indicates the direction of the wind before teeing off on the third hole during the final round of the Dell Technologies Championship on Sept. 3 at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. Woods once took for granted that he would end his season at the Tour Championship. Now, just being at East Lake feels like an accomplishment. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)

Atlanta — Tiger Woods is facing long odds of capturing the FedEx Cup and the $10 million bonus.

That’s all relative this year.

Just having his own parking spot at East Lake, being back at the Tour Championship for the first time since 2013, even feeling lost during a practice round because the nines were flipped, were all reminders that his greatest accomplishment this year was being part of the 30-man field.

“I think the season itself has been amazing, to be able to have played this well,” Woods said Wednesday. “I didn’t know how many tournaments I’d play in, and next thing you know, here I am in the Tour Championship. ... To have come back from where I’ve come back from and to get here has been a pretty tall order.”

He didn’t make it in 2014 because of his first back surgery and his ill-advised attempt to return too early.

He missed the entire FedEx Cup playoffs in 2015 when he couldn’t chip the ball onto the green from 20 feet away early in the season, and then his back started acting up late in the season. He missed all of 2016 while recovering from two more back surgeries, and all but one PGA Tour event in 2017 because of a fourth back surgery.

Never mind that Woods is at No. 20 in the FedEx Cup standings, having started no worse than No. 3 in his four previous FedEx Cup finales.

This is one tournament where it’s more about the start than the finish.

“It’s great to have accomplished one of the goals I set out at the beginning of the year: to make it back to East Lake to be part of the Tour Championship and part of these top 30 guys,” he said. “I’ve exceeded a lot of my expectations and goals because so much of it was an unknown.”

The only thing left to cap off a remarkable comeback would be a trophy.

This is his last chance.

That still probably wouldn’t be enough for Woods to win the FedEx Cup for the third time — no one else has won it more than once.

The better odds are with the top five seeds — Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas — who only have to win the Tour Championship to take home the richest bonus in golf.

Thomas has even more at stake. No one, not even Woods, has won the FedEx Cup in successive years. Thomas was runner-up at East Lake a year ago, which was enough for him to move past Jordan Spieth and capture the cup.

“I’m excited to have an opportunity to do something that no one has ever done, which is pretty cool,” Thomas said. “I’m not sure if it was true or not, but I heard that no one had been in the top five after winning the FedEx Cup.”

It’s true.

Woods never followed a FedEx Cup title with a top-5 seed because he was recovering from knee surgery in 2008, and he was putting his personal life back together in 2010. Spieth won in 2015 and was No. 7 going into the Tour Championship the following year.

Spieth didn’t make it back this year, finishing at No. 31 after a poor week at the BMW Championship.

It was an example that even some of the best in the world can’t bank on making it back to East Lake without playing great golf.

Woods was good enough, and better than he thought.

He was in the mix on the back nine at the last two majors. He came to the 18th hole at Innisbrook needing a birdie to tie for the lead. He had six finishes in the top 10. And the number that means the most might be the tournaments he played. The Tour Championship is his 18th event, his busiest schedule to date since 2012.

Woods first showed signs of back trouble in the final round of the 2013 PGA Championship, though he revealed Wednesday that his back first started acting up a year earlier in the Ryder Cup at Medinah, and that he asked to play as late as possible.

“That’s the only wave I’ve ever missed,” said Woods, who sat out the Saturday morning session, and ended up halving the last of 12 singles matches as Europe rallied from a four-point deficit to win.

East Lake is only part of the reward. Woods will be on the charter Sunday night to France for his first Ryder Cup since 2012. He finished 11th in the standings and was as easy choice as a captain’s pick by Jim Furyk.

Spieth is the only American on the Ryder Cup team not at East Lake. For the other 11, along with six players on the European team, the focus is on the FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize this week, followed by a cup with no prize at all next week.

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