'Tigermania' roars into France as Ryder Cup showdown looms

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

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Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France (AFP) — “Tigermania” is back, after crowds mobbed Tiger Woods like a rock star to see him snap a five-year win drought — and it's about to hit France in a major way at the 42nd Ryder Cup.

Like the Beatles in America in 1964 or Michael Jordan and the US basketball team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Woods will be the star attraction this week at Le Golf National.

The 14-time major champion, back on top form after spinal fusion surgery, leads holders United States against Europe starting Friday, the Americans seeking their first victory on European soil in 25 years.

“The comeback is for real and it's nice for him to prove that to the world,” Britain's second-ranked Justin Rose said. “The weekend is a pretty good introduction into the Ryder Cup for sure.”

Woods won the Tour Championship on Sunday at East Lake for his 80th career US PGA Tour title, two shy of Sam Snead's all-time record, and his first victory in 1,876 days — an emotional triumph highlighted by a spectator stampede surrounding a police-protected Woods in a rush to see him on the 18th green.

Fans chanted “Ti-ger, Ti-ger” and “U-S-A, U-S-A”, and Woods fought back tears before making the final putt to become a champion once more, after once fearing he might never play again.

“I was having a hard time not crying on the last hole,” Woods said, his voice choking at times. “I just can't believe I pulled this off.

“It hasn't been so easy the last couple of years. It's hard to believe I was able to do it again.”

Nagging back injuries led to four operations since 2014, including a “last chance” spinal fusion that has helped him to regain the form of glory days at age 42.

“It's certainly up there with obviously all the major championships I've won,” Woods said. “I just didn't know whether this would ever happen again. It means a lot. It really does.

“Eighty is a big number. I've been sitting on 79 for about five years now and to get 80 is a pretty damned good feeling.”

“Sam is still ahead of me. Maybe I'll keep chipping away at that number and maybe surpass it. But what I've gone through and what I've dealt with, I've gotten lucky.”

Rose watched with amazement the endearing response Woods drew from US fans, then joked with him as he walked off the last green.

“Jokingly I said to him, 'About time,'” Rose said. “I think that it's been a matter of time. And we've all been waiting for him to win and we've all been wanting him to win, and I think it's great for the sport.

“He truly moves the needle like no one else out here and he wins in style, he wins with charisma. He's brilliant to watch.”

World number 21 Paul Casey, Rose's European Ryder Cup teammate, is excited about the Woods victory and what it means for Ryder Cup week.

“I'm pumped for next week,” Casey said. “It's like next week already; It was like warm-ups. This is quite important, so this is massive. And this is a brilliant victory.”

This was obvious when Woods found himself surrounded by well-wishers taking photos of him with their cell-phones — what he dubbed a “fevered pitch.”

“I could hear it. I just didn't really see much,” Woods said. “I was kind of looking forward and I figured that security would hold them back.”

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