Winning his fifth Masters title after a 14-year hiatus, golf legend Tiger Woods has rewritten what comebacks in the sporting world look like.
Woods finished 13 under par after 72 holes at Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia, on Sunday, carving a victory for himself for the first time since winning his last championship at the 2008 US Open. When his tap-in bogey settled in the cup for a one-shot win, Woods threw up his arms in triumph, igniting chants of “Tiger Tiger”.
Before Sunday, Woods hadn’t participated in a Masters tournament since 2015. It was also his first Major’s victory in nearly 11 years and 15th in total.
I can’t thank my family, friends and fans enough for their support. Having my family by my side today is something I will never forget. To not only be able to play again, but to be able to win again, is something I will forever be grateful for. This jacket sure is comfortable. pic.twitter.com/LsOUX2dWH1— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 14, 2019
Woods won the tournament by one stroke in a close competition that at one point saw five golfers sharing the lead. The high drama continued as four golfers remained tied with just a few holes left to play, Yahoo Sports reported.
Among Woods’ opponents were golfers who are often seen as his successors, including Francesco Molinari, three-time major winner Brooks Koepka, and world number two Dustin Johnson. However, they all hit disappointing shots in their final holes. The all-American trio of Koepka, Johnson, and Xander Schauffele shared second place on 276.
“I was as patient as I’ve been in a number of years out there,” Woods said in a post-match interview. “I was controlling my shot placement, especially seeing that board. It was a who’s who.”
With two holes left, Woods took a two-shot lead with a birdie on the 16th hole, inching to the finishing line.
“It’s overwhelming just because of what has transpired,” Woods was quoted as saying by CNN-News18. “I could barely walk. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t do anything.
“To have the opportunity to come back, it’s one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had, for sure.”
Woods parred 17 and walked up to the 18th green to crowds 20-people deep applauding with delight, but he kept a stoic visage until the job was done. “When I tapped the putt in, I don’t know what I did, but I know I screamed,” Woods said of his final stroke, which gave way to “Tiger!” chants.
“To have my kids there, it’s come full circle. My dad was here in 1997, and now, I’m the dad with two kids there.” With caddie Joe LaCava, he made a beeline to embrace his family—his mother and children who were waiting beyond the 18th.
When Woods won his first Masters at the age of 21 in 1997, he became the youngest golfer and first African-American man to win the tournament.
His feat, which moved him three shy of the all-time record of 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has earned plaudits and praise from fans across the world including politicians, sportspersons, and celebrities. Woods, however, said he isn’t chasing Nicklaus at the moment, calling it “too soon” in response to a question at a post-tournament press conference.
At 43, Woods has become the second-oldest Masters winner, trailing only Nicklaus at 46 in 1986. He is also the second player ever to win a Masters in three different decades.
After Sunday, Woods is just one shy of matching Nicklaus for the most career Masters wins and also to beat the all-time record of 82 US PGA victories Sam Snead holds.
Woods has, more importantly, set a record for the longest gap between Masters triumphs; South African golfer Gary Player hit the pause for 13 years, to Woods’ 14, between 1961 and 1974.
“Tiger Woods winning a 15th Major title at the US Masters after multiple career-saving back surgeries will be celebrated as one of the most remarkable pieces of sporting theatre known to man,” wrote noted sportswriter Desmond Kane.
With this win, Woods has officially entered Donald Trump’s “really great guy” clique, with the President tweeting about his friend: “Love people who are great under pressure. What a fantastic life comeback for a really great guy.”
Former president Barack Obama and tennis champion Serena Williams, too, congratulated the star golfer on his latest achievement.
Tiger, Tiger, burning bright
Silencing all his critics who had written him off or thought that his best years were behind him, Woods with this fairy-tale comeback has managed to overcome a slew of professional setbacks that followed his injuries and personal troubles.
In 2009, his career imploded after a sex scandal, which engulfed his private life and led to divorce. In his latest public apology to his former wife, he expressed “regret” that will “last a lifetime”. What took a more severe toll on his A-game was nagging knee and back injuries that required a total of seven surgeries; it hasn’t been two years since he underwent spinal fusion surgery due to chronic back pain.
“Woods’ triumph is only one of the top sporting stories of the day, perhaps even the week, to me. But the multiple walls he has crashed into on the personal front, not to mention his career-threatening spinal surgery from two years ago, makes his victory one of the greatest comebacks,” says Annesha Ghosh, journalist at ESPN India.
Speaking to Qrius, she navigates Wood’s complicated legacy, asking herself, “Will I be able to appreciate his comeback as much in isolation, detaching it from to the sex scandal he was involved in? No, nor from that mugshot of his or the injuries he’s had to overcome — all of those low points were real, as is this win. And it will all be a part of Woods’ legacy.”
Why this win really matters to some
Woods also faced systemic racism in the early days of his career, challenges he overcame by virtue of an unbeatable record over the better half of two decades till 2005. Despite golf being an elitist sport and Woods one of the few minority players, he dominated the game.
In his book, The 1997 Masters: My Story, Woods describes the struggles he had on the grounds of race for the first time. “I knew none of this meant, necessarily, things would change dramatically for minorities in golf. I hoped my win would encourage them to play, or to chase their dreams whatever they were,” he writes. “I only hoped my win, and how I won, might put a dent in the way people perceived black people. I hoped my win would open some doors for minorities.”
Figures have shown that as Woods stopped being a force in golf, the number of black golfers also declined; there were 1.5 million black golfers in America in 2007; 10 years later, there were only 800,000. So when he came back from disgrace, rehab, and injury to win the 2018 PGA Tour championship in 2018, it revived the hope in some, if not all.
But on Sunday, Woods was the focused killer he used to be before all the injuries, personal problems and doubts, about whether he could play at a high level again, took over. For fans, admirers and players of colour, the match in Augusta was not only an unforgettable moment but also the start of a new chapter.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.