Tiger’s back. That is something that just about no one thought they would ever hear after he hit rock bottom in the spring of 2017. Entering the final day of the Masters last Sunday, Woods trailed Francesco Molinari by two strokes. Although he had won 14 majors throughout his career, not once had Woods won one without having the lead through three rounds. He was faced with the challenge of making a comeback, and not only would he have to catch Molinari, he would also have to outlast both Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka.
The 12th hole was where the tables began to turn, as Molinari double bogeyed and allowed Tiger to join him at the top of the leaderboard. On hole 15, Molinari double bogeyed once again while Tiger birdied. He never looked back.
Following the improbable win, Woods posted a statement on Twitter: “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.”
It is really tough to put Tiger Woods’s career and comeback into perspective. Twenty-three years ago in 1996, Woods won Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, along with PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. A year after that, he won his first major, which happened to be the Masters, and he was the youngest to do so at the age of 21. For the next 11 years, we witnessed what was arguably the most dominant run in sports history. It is not only the fact that Tiger won 14 majors from 1997–2008, it was the fashion in which he did it. He changed the game with his incredible performances; things like winning the 2000 US Open by 15 strokes, 12 under par while the next best was three strokes over. He essentially made the sport of golf a can’t-miss event on Sundays when Tiger was competing. In 2009, no one expected the 33-year-old's run to come to an end anytime soon. Little did we know everything was about to change and unravel.
In November of that year, reports came out one morning that Woods had crashed his SUV first into a tree, and then into a fire hydrant right outside of his house. It came out his wife at the time had just learned of several affairs Tiger was having, so she took her anger out on him. They went on to get divorced, and that was just the start of the downfall. From 2009 to 2017, he tore his ACL, had four back surgeries, and despite a strong season in 2013, Tiger was not nearly playing like himself. Everything was already bad enough, and the vast majority of fans already thought he was done for good. Well, things went from bad to worse in May 2017, as police pulled up behind a car on the side of the road in Jupiter, Fla. early in the morning. Woods was asleep in the driver’s seat with the car running, and ended up being arrested on suspicion of a DUI. The arrest itself was not necessarily what caught people’s attention, it was both his mugshot and the video from his sobriety test that left fans discouraged and disturbed. It was so bad that Jack Nicklaus, the only golfer with more majors than Tiger (18), commented on the situation. “Obviously I don’t really know what happened. But I feel bad for Tiger. Tiger is a friend. He’s been great for the game of golf. And I think he needs all our help, and we wish him well.”
In 2018, we began to see glimpses of the real Tiger. Some would say it was just wishful thinking and that he had no chance to win again, while others would say it is just a matter of time before he wins. As the year progressed, so did he, so much so that he finished sixth in the Open Championship, and then second in the PGA Championship.
Finally, here we are in 2019 with one major in the books, and Tiger has broken through, finally ended his 11-year drought without a victory in a major. To see him win reminded us of just how different golf can be when he is himself. The roar of the crowd is unmatched on a golf course for anyone else, and watching the abundance of fans follow him from hole to hole down the stretch is a sight to see. The emotion on his face after sinking his final putt was pure happiness and relief, as if a tremendous amount of weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. The scene off the 18th green was special, as Woods’ son ran up to his Dad to give him a hug along with the rest of the family. Now that he has won his 15th major, the quest for 18 is truly back in play, and if there is anyone who can win three more at the age of 43, it is him. Tiger’s back.