Dubai: If Tiger Woods’ victory at the 2019 Masters is among the greatest comebacks in sports history, its origin will forever be traced to what happened on the 12th hole on Sunday when the old Tiger Woods suddenly reappeared at a major championship for the first time in 11 years.
It was far more than a golf hole. It was psychological drama, the instant a former champion reclaimed his domain, and the kind of seminal moment that helps rewrite a sport’s history.
It was only two years ago at Augusta National that Woods needed a nerve block just to hobble upstairs to the Champions Dinner, unsure he would ever play another round of golf.
And now it’s all pieced back together – his life, his back, even golf.
A fallen hero, a crippled star, a cured addict – Woods is a Masters champion again.
At 43, Woods becomes the second-oldest winner of the Masters, behind Jack Nicklaus, who won in 1986 at the age of 46. Woods’ victory immediately reverberated beyond golf and sports. US President Donald Trump sent forth his congratulations: “Love people who are great under pressure,” the president wrote. “What a fantastic life comeback for a really great guy!”
Woods’ victory certainly had an epic feel to it. Here, on arguably the sport’s biggest stage, was its seminal figure, suddenly back on top, which is where he was a decade ago when everything suddenly went sideways for him.
What followed back then was a long, painful period of his life, in which his body repeatedly broke down and his marriage collapsed. It was a monumental triumph for Woods, a come-from-behind victory for a player who had seen so much go wrong on the course and off after his personal life began to unravel on Thanksgiving night in 2009.
Lurid scandals and surgery
The years between Woods’ 14th and 15th victories (and 14 years between two Masters titles) in major tournaments included an immense number of setbacks, although his struggles actually date to the 2006 death of his father Earl, who was his soul mate and putting guru.
Two years later, Woods won the US Open victory on a left leg in need of surgery, but a year after that a marital dispute about his off-course dalliances and scandals led to a car accident and a succession of lurid headlines. A bitter divorce followed in 2010.
On the path of addiction
The ensuing years brought repeated back surgeries, which led to an addiction to painkillers and culminated in pain so searing that in 2017 he asked whether he could play professionally again. That year he hit rock bottom when he was charged with driving under the influence after he was found in a painkiller haze at the wheel of his car. Woods said that when he was down he gained strength from what he described as his children’s “infectious happiness.”
Whether Woods can dominate golf again is still to be determined. He needed some help to win this Masters. Six players had a share of the lead at some point on the back nine, and there was a five-way tie at the top when the final group was still on the 15th fairway.
“I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple of years ago," Woods said. "I could barely walk. I couldn't sit. Couldn't lay down. I really couldn't do much of anything. ... To have the opportunity to come back like this, it's probably one of the biggest wins I've ever had for sure because of it. To have my kids here, it’s come full circle,” he said after the final round. “My dad was here in 1997 and now I’m the dad with two kids there.”
What makes this the finest comeback in sport is not that he hit the ball better than the rest on a reconstructed spine, but that he won against the odds and his own inner demons.
It’s overwhelming just because of what has transpired... It was one of the hardest I’ve ever had to win just because of what’s transpired the last couple of years.
It had been 14 years since he last won the Masters – no one had ever gone that long between green jackets. He had gone nearly 11 years since his last major, the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines on a shattered left leg.
But this was bigger.
As he donned the winner’s green jacket for a fifth time, he said something everyone knew but might have forgotten. “It fits.”
Who can ever forget this day?
- With inputs from agencies
Nadal gets emotional
London: An "emotional" Rafael Nadal on Monday said he watched spellbound as Tiger Woods rolled back the clock to win a fifth Masters title and cap his comeback from back surgery.
Spain's world number two, a keen golfer himself, expressed nothing but admiration for Woods, who has fought through at least as many physical challenges as he has himself.
14yearsIs the gap between Woods’ fourth and fifth Masters victory
"It was amazing," Nadal said as he prepared for his Wednesday start at the Monte Carlo Masters, his first event in a month since withdrawing with knee issues at Indian Wells before a semi-final against Roger Federer.
"I'm a big fan of him. Like I've said hundreds of times, that he's probably my favourite sportsman in the world since a long time ago."
Nadal could not help but compare his own years of fitness problems to those of Woods, who has faced multiple back surgeries and other roadblocks when it looked like his career might be close to ending.
"There have been tough years for him," 17-time Grand Slam winner Nadal said. "I cannot be happier about the victory of yesterday.
"If you imagine all the process and all the hard work that he had to do to be back on a golf course - all the things that he did...
"And, finally, to win a Grand Slam again, especially in Augusta, probably his favourite one, means everything for him.
"I really know a little bit how hard he worked to be back. I was very emotional yesterday."