There is nothing quite like a great comeback in sport. Liverpool’s miracle in Istanbul, Agassi at Roland Garros in 1999, France against the All-Blacks at Twickenham and even golf’s own miracle at Medinah in the Ryder Cup. But Tiger Wood’s incredible win at The Masters, his 15th Major victory, is more than just one event, it is the culmination of over a decade of real hardship. Tiger, once revered as the greatest athlete of his generation, hit rock-bottom both on and off the course. This weekend, however, bookmarks a year of redemption and is perhaps even Tiger’s greatest achievement yet.
Coming into this Masters tournament at Augusta National in Georgia, much of the talk surrounded golf’s biggest icon. His comeback in 2018 saw him briefly leading The Open at Carnoustie and finishing second at the PGA Championship. His victory at East Lake in the Tour Championship showed the world that Tiger could still compete and win on the PGA Tour. Winning his first major since the 2008 US Open however, many believed was a step to far even for Tiger Woods.
It was an unusual final day at Augusta. With heavy storms threatening to interfere with the tournament’s climax, the decision was made to have the players play in groups of three and have rounds starting earlier and simultaneously on the 1st and 10th tees. 54-hole leader Francesco Molinari and Woods’ Ryder Cup team-mate Tony Finau joined Tiger in the final grouping. Molinari, the Open champion and Europe’s hero in Paris last year, had a two-shot lead over his playing partners and given his remarkable consistency was rightly considered a safe bet to take his second Major and first Green Jacket. The final round of the Masters is often cruel and has shaken many an overnight leader though, just ask Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy. Molinari went on a run of 50 straight holes without dropping a shot, but with a few wayward drives on the front 9 he showed elements of uncharacteristic nervousness. Despite being level par for the day and still in the lead, as often is the case it was the back 9 that would prove the Italian’s undoing. Hitting the water on 12 and 15 saw him record two double-bogeys and slip out of contention.
Molinari’s faltering brought not just Tiger but a whole host of other players back in the fight, at one point it even looked like we could see a 5-man play-off. This is perhaps what makes Tiger’s win even more impressive. Regardless of his comeback, Tiger won The Masters from two-shots back at the start of the round, the first time he has ever won a major from behind, and bested a field of incredible talent. In the end, Tiger won by a stroke ahead of the group of the increasingly impressive Xander Schauffele, the reigning US Open and PGA Champion Brooks Koepka and the on/off world number 1 Dustin Johnson. Couple that with the fact that Molinari has had the better of Woods several times in the Ryder Cup and at Carnoustie last year and that players including Jason Day, Webb Simpson and Rickie Fowler all gave themselves a chance towards the end, it could be argued that Woods has never beaten a stronger field of players in his long career.
Once he took the outright lead on 15, it was like the Tiger of old had returned. With a familiar, though not seen in a while, steely determination Woods hit a sensational tee-shot on 16 that teased going in for a hole-in-one. Instead, a birdie was enough to give Tiger a two-shot lead, with two holes to play. Par on 17 and a bogey on 18 may have not been as smooth as some may have wanted. It didn’t matter. After waiting for Molinari and Finau to finish, Tiger tapped in and threw his arms into the air in sheer elation. For much of the round, the tension at Augusta was on a knife edge, but there was an incredible release of emotion on 18, from Tiger and from the galleries. Walking up to the clubhouse, Tiger emotionally embraced his children and his mother. Echoing when he hugged his late father after his first Masters win back in 1997.
There were many great stories told this Masters weekend. From the sensational golf played by the likes of Koepka, Finau and Molinari, champion in 1985 and 1993 61-year-old Bernhard Langer making the cut and the success of four amateurs making the cut with Norway’s Viktor Hovland leading the way. However, this Masters will be remembered for one thing only and that is arguably its greatest ever player, certainly its biggest star, winning one of the big ones over 10 years since the last time. Tiger Woods’ off-course troubles are well documented but from a purely sporting perspective this comeback remains remarkable. Only two years ago, Tiger said at the Masters’ champions dinner that he didn’t expect to play competitive golf again. He’s had four back surgeries and numerous other issues, but now is back in a place where can compete and win the biggest tournaments.
Tiger’s 5th Green Jacket has reignited discussion over whether he can match or even surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. This win makes it 15 but at 43 and with the quality of the field he is up against, it is a monumental challenge. However, the next two majors take place at Bethpage (PGA Championship) and Pebble Beach (US Open), both places Tiger has won at before and he certainly still has the links game to compete at Royal Portrush in July (The Open Championship). Whether this was one last Major victory for a great champion or the start of something else remains to be seen, he certainly has nothing left to prove. However, given what he’s been through, this incredible win at the 2019 Masters shows the world that you should never bet against Tiger Woods.