Tiger Woods Pulls Off Masters Win After 11 Year Drought
Ending an eleven-year drought, Tiger Woods is back on top at a major tournament.
After a drought that lasted more than a decade, and began with his much-publicized marriage, medical problems, and relationship difficulties, Tiger Woods came back yesterday with a big win at The Masters:
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fallen hero, crippled star, and now a Masters champion again.
Tiger Woods rallied to win the Masters for the fifth time Sunday, a comeback that goes well beyond the two-shot deficit he erased before a delirious audience that watched memories turn into reality at Augusta National.
Woods had gone nearly 11 years since he won his last major, 14 years since that green jacket was slipped over his Sunday red shirt. He made it worth the wait, closing with a 2-under 70 for a one-shot victory and setting off a scene of raw emotion.
He scooped up 10-year-old Charlie, born a year after Woods won his 14th major at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S Open. He hugged his mother and then 11-year-old daughter Sam, and everyone else in his camp that stood by him through a public divorce, an embarrassing DUI arrest from a concoction of painkillers and four back surgeries, the most recent one just two years ago to fuse his lower spine.
Woods won his 15th major, three short of the standard set by Jack Nicklaus. It was his 81st victory on the PGA Tour, one title away from the career record held by Sam Snead.
It was the first time Woods won a major when trailing going into the final round, and he needed some help from Francesco Molinari, the 54-hole leader who still was up two shots heading into the heart of Amen Corner.
Molinari’s tee shot on the par-3 12th never had a chance, hitting the bank and tumbling into Rae’s Creek for double bogey. Until then, Molinari had never trailed in a round that began early in threesomes to finish ahead of storms.
With the final group still in the 15th fairway, there was a five-way tie for the lead. And that’s when Woods seized control, again with plenty of help. Molinari’s third shot clipped a tree and plopped straight down in the water for another double bogey. Woods hit onto the green, setting up a two-putt birdie for his first lead of the final round. The knockout punch was a tee shot into the 16th that rode the slope just by the cup and settled 2 feet away for birdie and a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
Woods finished at 13-under 275 and became, at 43, the oldest Masters champion since Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket at 46 in 1986.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods plays golf with his hat on so we don’t see his balding head, meaning many found it easy Sunday to mistake this year’s 43-year-old Masters champion — the once and current king of golf’s most glowing moment — for the elegant 21-year-old who won his first green jacket here 22 years and one day earlier.
Nothing about Woods — neither his fit, super-athlete appearance, nor his fierce focus perfectly matched to his utter calm, nor his powerhouse play — betrayed the reality of what the world was watching. If we were not told that Woods’s one-shot victory in the 83rd Masters to claim his 15th major championship was taking place at this very moment, we might have believed we were looking at tape from the early 2000s. And, caught in our own time warp of a fantasy, we might even say: “Tiger’s not just back. He still looks like he’s in his prime.”
Of course, that is not only false; it is the absolute opposite of the truth — which is what made this day so superb for sports and so deeply gratifying for Woods. The young Woods, fist-pumping in victory but icy in private, will be remembered with awe. This old Woods, with rings of pain like those circles inside the oak trees here, will be recalled with deep affection and a steadily increasing regard.
Everyone adapts, endures and sometimes even changes for the better in the face of a lifetime’s physical pain, self-inflicted failures or embarrassments. Few great, rich, famous athletes looked less touched by that harsh side of life than Woods did 11 years ago. Since then, few could match him for injury or a self-doubt that became so deep that, at the Masters champions dinner two years ago, he conceded to his peers, “I’m done.”
Luckily for us all, when Woods’s last tap-in bogey putt dropped in the hole Sunday, Tiger’s hat finally came off. And so did the lid that he has kept on his emotions for almost all of his career. The man with the yacht named “Privacy” flipped the switch and, finally, invited the whole world into his heart.
For minutes, he seemed intent on hugging every person on the property. He lifted his son, Charlie, hat on backward, into his arms. He hugged his daughter, Sam, who now comes up to his shoulder, for the longest, warmest eyes-closed time. His mother, Kultida, now silver-haired, got squeezes. For years, when asked what kept him centered during his various troubles, he always said, “My kids.”
Woods’s 14 other major triumphs were surrounded by awe. This one was surrounded by affection.
Some do not find the biblical parable of the prodigal son to be the work of an entirely credible deity; the prodigal son returns to a feast of fatted calf, while the diligent good son gets McNuggets. By similar logic, some who watched Woods win will not grasp why golf’s prodigal has been welcomed back into the fold with such open arms. Perhaps they have little faith that people can change or learn from their humbling experiences. The roars here probably reflect the overall popular vote.
The thousands at the Masters and the millions watching will never feel Woods’s golf swing or have his genius sense of touch or his imagination. But we have little problem imagining his personal, psychological and physical pain.
“I had serious doubts [about playing competitively again]. I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lay down,” Woods said. “Luckily I had the procedure [a fusion] on my back, which gave me a chance to have a normal life.”
What happened next has amazed him — and then everybody else — for the past 18 months.
For seven months, ever since Woods won the Tour Championship in September to end a five-year PGA Tour drought, the sports world has grappled with one question: If Woods could win a major championship after going 11 years and 42 majors without one, would that be the greatest comeback in sports?
Yes, of course it is.
Why? Since last year, this Greatest Comeback debate has arisen everywhere sports media types — a nasty bunch — congregate. We make our cases for something, anything, that would beat a Tiger win in a major. With respect for everybody who gets mentioned, we have all given up. Ben Hogan coming back to win majors after almost dying when his car was crushed by a bus is the only competition. But Woods checks boxes for misery and self-inflicted embarrassment that nobody knew existed.
Now let the accolades roll in. Jack Nicklaus sent a text: “A big well-done for Tiger. I am so happy for him and for the game of golf. This is just fantastic.”
Instead of “greatest comeback ever,” we now have a different and almost ridiculous question: Will Woods enter a 40-something renaissance and challenge Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors?
After the way Woods won his fifth Masters, that’s not impossible. His command of himself and his ball’s flight, his sense of what the leader board was telling him and, most important, his ability to avoid even a single dangerous, win-killing mistake — one fatal splash — spoke to a champion who was not simply summoning one magical, lucky week. Rather, this was a player whose polished but merely normal game could churn out a score of 13 under par at Augusta National.
“There were so many guys who had a chance to win. You couldn’t have had more drama. Now I know why I’m balding. This stuff is hard,” Woods said. Then, for the only time, he allowed himself to brag. “I hit some of the best shots on that back nine today,” he said. “I felt like I just flushed it coming home.”
I am not a big golf fan either as a player or a viewer, but Tiger Woods was the kind of sports star that transcended golf fandom and turned him into a major celebrity in a sense that is seldom seen in the world of golf, putting along with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. After all, this is a guy who started off his golfing career with an appearance on the the old Mike Douglas Show when he was just five years old. Once he broke onto the professional tour, he started racking up wins out of nowhere that made it appear that he was unstoppable.
Of course, in sports as in life, nobody is unstoppable and Tiger’s downfall began with his much-publicized divorce and the medical problems that plagued him in the years afterward. At the time, it seemed as if his time on the stage had ended. especially as we began to see other young players rise to the top while Tiger at times didn’t even manage to qualify for the weekend cut at tournaments that he used to win easily.
Over the course of the past two years or so, though that slowly began to change. Woods became more of a presence in the weekend group at tournaments even if he didn’t come very close to winning. Over the past year, he started to rack up wins at a few minor tournaments and then, at the end of last year, he managed to win the PGA Tour Championship for the first time since 2007. Yesterday’s win at the Masters seems like it’s just the latest sign of a comeback that many people, including those of us who aren’t really golf fans, have been waiting for.
With this win, Woods seems well-positioned to tie and break both San Snead’s record of 81 PGA Tour wins and possibly Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 wins in major tournaments even though he’s not exactly one of the young guys anymore. In any case, congratulations to Tiger on his comeback.