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His body was broken. His game was broken. His spirit was broken. All of it public. None of it pretty. But on Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club nothing could stop Tiger Woods from winning the Masters. Not Father Time. Not Mother Nature. Not the best golfers in the world.
After tapping in to win his 15th major championship, ending an 11-year drought, Woods raised his arms and let loose a mighty roar, making a lifetime of roars seem restrained. A sport steeped in history had just witnessed its finest moment.
Teeing off in the morning to beat an incoming storm, the 43-year-old Woods shot a two-under par 70, deftly avoided the big mistakes that befell the rest of the golfers on a crowded leaderboard, to earn his fifth green jacket by one stroke over Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele.
“Just unreal, to be honest with you,” Woods said at the opening of his winner’s press conference. “You know, just the whole tournament has meant so much to me over the years. Coming here in ’95 for the first time, and being able to play as an amateur; winning in ’97, and then come full circle, 22 years later, to be able to do it again, and just the way it all transpired today.”
Woods’ early-round struggles to make short putts were solved on the weekend, and even before the result was guaranteed, it had become clear he was the class of the field.
Fifty-four hole leader Francesco Molinari was the last challenger to crack when his tee shot at the par-3 12th found the water in Amen Corner. Molinari, the reigning British Open champion, faded out of the picture completely after finding the water again at the par-5 15th hole.
Woods’ 13-under-par total and his Sunday triumph will become one of sport’s great ‘Where were you when’ moments, but this win is about more than just a single day. Tiger’s victory on Sunday is the fulfillment of the greatest comeback in sports history by the greatest golfer to ever play.
Sports doesn’t offer many wonderful final acts. It can’t.
The very nature of competition is not kind to desperate athletes shaking the canteen one last time to see if anything is left. As the audience watching from our seats, we sadly almost always know better than the athlete when his time is over. Every great one thinks they will be the exception, we know there are no exceptions.
We thought we knew.
But Tiger Woods has spent a lifetime proving us wrong.
Whenever he went about tearing down and rebuilding his golf swing, we said he was crazy. Each major change was a long process, usually costing him a year of competitiveness.
We shook our heads, and he became the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer with four different swings.
We said he worked out too much and that his burly stature wasn’t good for golf. He told us to mind our own business, and now nearly every top golfer looks like they could tear their golf shirt with their pecs.
In 2015, when his chipping looked worse than what you’d see at your local muni course, we screamed from building tops that Tiger Woods had the deadly yips. He said nope, it just required a technical fix, and then a month later went to Augusta National and showed a beautiful touch around the toughest greens in the world.
Even recently, we challenged his putting and perhaps even his aging nerves on the greens. He maintained the problems were physical, stemming from a nagging neck injury and an inability to practise as much as he would like.
Then, this week, after missing numerous short putts in Rounds 1 and 2, he figured it out and putted flawlessly over the weekend and won the Green Jacket.
After four knee surgeries, four back surgeries, and 11 years without a major win, Woods has proved us wrong for the final time as there is no room left for doubt.
“I could barely walk, I couldn’t sit, couldn’t lay down, I really couldn’t do much of anything,” he said of how he felt two years ago. “Luckily I had the procedure on my back, which gave me a chance at having a normal life. But then all of a sudden, I realized I could actually swing a golf club again. I felt if I could somehow piece this together that I still had the hands to do it.”
Despite the fused disc in his lower back, Woods’ swing somehow looks as good as ever. Sure, some of the power is gone but it has been replaced by a fluidity never seen before in his movement. Nobody in the field at the Masters looked as in control as Woods over the four days.
As the tournament progressed, it wasn’t a surprise he was on the leaderboard, it was a surprise he wasn’t leading already.
“It’s the best I’ve felt with a driver in years,” said Woods. “I was able to hit the golf ball both ways this week, and some of the shots I hit down 13, turn it around the corner, a couple of drives down two, some of the bombs I hit down three; and then to hit little squeezers out there down seven … I was able to hit both ends of the spectrum, low cuts and high draws. That’s not easy to do, so I just really felt that I had that much control in my long game and it paid off.”
Woods fifth Masters victory came against the deepest field of any of his major wins. His otherworldly run of 14 major championships from 1997-2008 took golf to new heights, made the sport cool, and created a hyper-aggressive, brashly confident, powerful generation of golfers.
Young golfers who once said they wished they could have played against Woods in his prime, to which 2001 British Open champion David Duval replied, “The hell you do.”
The Tiger generation just learned to be careful what you wish for.
Woods’ patience on Sunday was rewarded as – just like days of old – players around him began to make mistakes. In his prime, critics would complain that leaderboards would melt around Woods. Truth was, that’s what it looks like when the leader makes no mistakes.
As he left the 18th green, Woods wrapped his 10-year-old son Charlie in a tight hug. The image was beautifully reminiscent of the embrace a 21-year-old Woods shared with his father, Earl Woods, after winning his first Masters in 1997.
“It means the world to me,” Woods said of sharing the moment with Charlie and his 11-year-old daughter Sam. “Their love and their support, I just can’t say enough how much that meant to me throughout my struggles when I really just had a hard time moving around. Just their infectiousness of happiness”
His mother Kultida and girlfriend Erica Herman were also there to greet him.
“Just to have them there, and then now to have them see their Pops win, just like my Pops saw me win here, it’s pretty special.”
He is one win behind Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour victories and three majors behind Jack Nicklaus’ 18. For now, there are still golfers with greater records, but Tiger Woods proved on Sunday at the Masters there has never been a greater golfer.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019