It may be impossible for some to catalogue Tiger Woods as a reclamation project. After all, he is man of immense wealth and fame, arguably the greatest golfer of his generation, an athlete who transcends sports in the same way Michael Jordan and Lebron James do.
And yet, that’s exactly what he’s been over the last few years. Brought to his knees by an unending series of injuries and personal mishaps, Woods image and game had been knocked down so emphatically it was hard to imagine he’d ever be able to get up.
That’s what made this weekend all the more extraordinary. Woods returned to the 2019 Masters feeling physically and emotionally fortified, convinced he’d be able to contend for another green jacket. As it turned out, he was selling himself short.
Striding confidently down the 18th fairway on Sunday at Augusta National, it was clear we were witnessing one of the greatest stories of personal and professional redemption in history.
Woods was back in his element, confident and crafty. He was a champion. Again.
History will forever recall the circumstances that led Woods’ to his fifth Masters title and his 15th major championship. This wasn’t just a sports story. It was international news. It was history.
“Tiger’s back,” said Brooks Koepka, the two-time defending United States Open champion.
It was Woods’ first Major championship since 2008, his first Masters championship since 2005 and he doggedly chased it down from the very start. He hung around, shadowing those who took turns setting the pace heading into Sunday’s final round.
Woods knew he’d never come from behind to win a major. Imagine that; he’d always been the one holding off the field and opposed to pursuing the leader. And then on the 12th hole on Sunday, he took off, capitalizing on a horrific double-bogey from leader Francesco Molinari, the defending British Open champion.
“It all flipped on 12; the mistake Francesco made there let a lot of guys back into the tournament, myself included,” Woods said. “It helps to be experienced. That’s all I was concentrating on. Don’t be fooled. The other guys ended up short.”
There was a time in Woods’ career when eclipsing Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships seemed inevitable. He was in his mid-30’s, so talented and so dominating. But life teed him up and he fell of the map, disgraced and hobbled. He became an afterthought, a sympathetic figure immersed in dilemmas of all shapes and sizes. He was cannon fodder for the tabloids.
Woods, now 43, was asked on Sunday if he thought catching Nicklaus was again possible.
“It’s a little soon right now, I’m just enjoying the 15th,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll think about a little down the road.”
Whether you are a Woods fan or not, you’d admit seeing him hug his mother and children, Sam and Charlie, after he walked off a winner was extremely touching. Woods had said his children had come to associate golf as something that brought their father pain and anguish. That wouldn’t be the case anymore.
“This is just unreal, to be honest with you,” Woods said. “Just the whole tournament has meant so much to me over the years. Coming here in ’95 for the first time and being able to play as an amateur. Winning in ’97 and then come full circle 22 years later, to be able to do it again. And just the way it all transpired today.
“There were so many different scenarios that could have transpired on that back nine. There were so many guys who had a chance to win. Leaderboard was absolutely packed, and everyone was playing well. You couldn’t have had more drama than we all had out there, and now I know why I’m balding. This stuff is hard.
“This has meant so much to me and my family, this tournament, and to have everyone here, it’s something I’ll never, ever forget.”
Only Nicklaus, who was 46 when he won the Masters in 1986, was older than Woods when he won the event. That is how Tiger is viewed now, a veteran who walks memory lane every time he steps on a course after winning 81 PGA Tour events..
And he is not of out the woods yet. He still deals with lingering pain. He took time off earlier this year to rest a sore neck. He must remain vigilant about his back.
“I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple years ago,” he said. “I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lay down. I really couldn’t do much of anything. Luckily, I had the procedure on my back, which gave me a chance of having a normal life. But then all of a sudden, I realized I could actually swing a golf club again.
“To have the opportunity to come back like this, it is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve had, for sure, because of it.”
In a few weeks, Woods will play in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in New York and what’s certain is the odds he will win will not be 14-1, as they were last week. He might even be the favorite, just like he was when his story was much different.
“I can tell you one thing,” Woods said. “I’m pretty sore right now. I’ve definitely let it all go today, and I ramped up the speed. I’m starting to have a little pop on that bat out there, which was good to see. I can promise you one thing: I’m not going to hit a golf ball tomorrow.”