Tiger Woods, at his best, could do unimaginable things with a golf ball. Yet when all is said and done, the defining moments of the 15-time major champion’s career have come when he was battling through his worst, claiming the 2008 US Open on a broken leg or slipping on another green jacket in 2019 after a series of potentially career-ending back injuries. That’s what Tiger’s true talent is: not winning at a cantor when he was at his peak but gutting out tournaments when he wasn’t.

The 2022 PNC Championship didn’t by any means have the stakes of a US Open or Masters, but as Woods has told us many times, he doesn’t enter tournaments to finish in second place. He was at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club this past week, competing with his 13-year-old son, Charlie, in the two-player team event, to win.

The problem was that neither Woods had their best stuff.

Mind you, despite having played just nine competitive rounds on the PGA Tour this year, the most recent coming five months ago, Woods’ swing was impressive at times during the two-day exhibition. He drove his ball past Justin Thomas on multiple occasions and flagged a series of long irons to set up birdie opportunities. But even during the good rounds, in 2022, there’s no escaping reality for Woods.

“The plantar fasciitis is no fun,” Woods said on Sunday, after finishing T8 with Charlie in their third PNC start. “We were both like walking penguins out there.”

The other penguin, Charlie, was also working through some pain. What he called a “minor, very minor” ankle injury in preparing for this event meant he struggled with his swing all weekend. He found more of a groove on Sunday after a subtle breakthrough on the range ahead of the event. He swung keeping more weight on his trail leg, and played a big cut. It became the day’s go-to shot.

“That’s all I got,” he said to his dad.

“I got ya’ bud,” Tiger responded.

Team Woods followed a 13-under 59 on Saturday with a seven-under 65 on Sunday, their 20-under total leaving them six back of eventual winners, Vijay Singh and his son, Qass. For Team Woods, the event became about other things: The bonding experience between father and son, and their family friends on Team Thomas.

And, perhaps most important of all, an opportunity for Charlie to learn his dad’s superpower of fighting through.

“It’s probably a great learning opportunity for Charlie,” Justin Thomas, who finished two back of Team Singh, said. “To be in competition and just being like, ‘Hey, I didn’t have my best stuff.'”

Tiger Woods hug his son Charlie as they wrapped up play Sunday on the 18th hole. Mike Ehrmann

At the same time, Charlie was also impressed at what he saw from his dad.

“I feel like I already knew what he was capable of,” Charlie said, “and then yesterday, that’s the best he’s ever played in a while, and that kind of shocked me a little bit.”

“I used to be good,” Tiger responded with a smirk.

In many ways it was a fitting end for the 2022 season for Woods, and a reminder of what’s ahead of the man who turns 47 next week. Teeing it up at all during the Masters in April was a victory in itself, and a platform to build upon that was never quite realised. In obvious discomfort at the PGA Championship in May, Woods withdrew after three rounds and skipped the US Open. The Open returning to St Andrews in July, where he missed the cut, proved another false dawn, as did his planned return at the Hero World Challenge, the tournament he hosts and which he pulled out of just three days ahead of the opening round.

“It was a tough year,” he said on Sunday, “but also one of the more rewarding years I’ve had in a while.”

Now that the PNC is in the books, Woods knows what to do next.

“Now I get to truly recover and heal and progress forward on this,” Woods said, “because there’s so many good things that I’ve been able to do physically, be able to hit the golf ball and practice and do everything in a standstill. But I haven’t been able to get from point A to point B, and we’re obviously going to work on this.”

It’s a cliché to call this Woods’ new normal, but that’s what it is. His offseason will be filled with work to get his body back into shape, as he prepares to fight through another season. Woods knows no other way of operating. If the Masters in April is indeed his next start, as many expect, we likely won’t see him play at his best. Woods knows that, too.

But Woods also knows we doesn’t need his best stuff to give us something special.