Eleven years since his last major victory, Tiger Woods tumultuous career came full circle with a breathtaking Master’s victory at Augusta National in 2019.
With him now holding the honour of slipping on the prestigious green jacket for a 5th time placing him one behind the legendary Jack Nicklaus.
The final day drama began at an unusually early time of 7:30am due to the gathering storm clouds on the horizon, yet it was the five men were clustered together at the top of the leader board who would provide a whirlwind of entertainment on an enthralling final days play.
Francesco Molinari began the day in pole position and maintained his status as leader with a typically steady front 9, yet as we entered the turn the momentum began to shift in the direction of the legendary 43 year old from California.
The usually steadfast Italian found water on the Par 3 12th hole whilst the unflappable Woods safely landed on the green and sunk an 8 foot putt for par. Rae’s Creek had claimed yet another victim in Molinari.
As we headed into the climax of proceedings it was Tiger who began to purr, rattling off 3 birdies on the 13th, 15th, and 16th holes. Meanwhile Molinari continued to tread water in an attempt to re-establish himself at the summit, yet it wasn’t to be as at the par 5 15th he sunk without trace. Pitching his 3rd shot into water once more, a catastrophic error ending his hopes of a maiden masters victory.
Tiger now found himself leader of the pack for the first time since the tournament began, with the powerful Brooks Koepka emerging from the chasing horde with a stunning eagle on the 15th, setting up a dramatic finish to a captivating final days play.
Trailing by a single shot at 12 under, Koepka needed to step up his assault with birdies being his prime objective, it was time to hunt down the Wily old veteran.
However it was to be in vain as it was Tiger who held off the challenge of the young pretender, using his years of experience to keep his cool on the home straight, holing out a exquisite birdie on the 16th whilst Brooks could only claim par.
The final hole would see these two golfing giants go head to head for a place in history with Koepka requiring a birdie in order to force a dramatic play off. Whilst Woods had to weather the impending storm on and off the fairway, a par would hand him an emotional and poignant victory.
Koepka’s approach shot landed him on the green with a real chance of making his required birdie, yet he agonisingly failed to capitalise as the resulting putt missed by mere inches, as he holed out for par Woods knew that single bogey would land him the prize.
His 2nd shot left the adoring crowd slightly concerned as his approach with 8 iron came up short, however in typical fashion Woods held steady and landed flush on the green with his 3rd leaving him needing to hole out in just two strokes.
The crowd held its breath as Tiger stepped up and duly obliged, sending home the final putt of the Championship for glory. A sight many believed would never be witnessed again after so many injuries, health problems, and off the course personal issues.
An emotional Woods soaked in the adulation from the crowd as they had witnessed history. Shortly after letting out a primal roar in celebration he went searching for his onlooking family in the crowd. Woods hugged his children, mother, and fiance tight in scenes echoing the famous embrace he shared with his father after his first triumph at Augusta as a fresh faced 21 year old in 1997.
Despite his failings and misgivings as a human being it is difficult begrudge him this return to form and fitness after coming through such monumental struggles in terms of his upbringing, personal life, and injury problems.
A man that has given so much of his life to this wonderful past time surely deserves a second chance after such a long time away from the spotlight in terms of tour success.
Encouraged by his African-American father Earl, a talented amateur himself, this mixed race athlete crossed racial divides amongst the hierarchy of the sport. Often denied privileges that were second nature to other golf club members on his rise in the amateurs, he would regularly face racial discrimination as a youngster by his own admission.
With his breakthrough success in the 1997 Masters came a period of domination that shook the game of golf to its very foundation. Adding countless majors and accolades to his resume, some courses even extended their yardage due to his awesome power off the tee, amid fears that players would simply be competing for the runner up spot every tournament. This became known as ‘Tiger Proofing’.
A trailblazer in every sense of the word, his stock would only continue to rise as he created a pathway into the game for ethnic minorities who had once believed that they did not belong in the world of golf. He broke down proverbial closed doors and became one of the most marketable athletes in the world at his unrelenting best, signing various lucrative deals with major companies, such as Nike, Titleist and Gillette.
His name and image had transcended the sport and he became the face of a series of world renowned video games from EA Sports.
Tiger’s flair on the course and marketability had introduced fresh eyes and ears to the game of golf the likes that had not been witnessed ever before in terms of tv ratings and participation, and he can be credited for a rise in popularity of the game.
Tigers dramatic fall from grace began in 2009 after details of his infidelity started to surface in the mainstream media, with Woods himself eventually admitting to multiple extra marital affairs in an open statement to the public.
It seemed that the fruits of success and fame had fuelled the idea that he could do and take whatever he so desired, by his own admission Tiger admitted that he been foolish to think that this attitude was acceptable, this unsavoury episode would cost him his marriage to the mother of his children and he would take a hiatus from the game of golf in order to address these underlying issues.
Sponsorship deals and big money contracts began to the fall to the wayside as his public image took a beating, with many of his partnerships dissolved, including his contract with video game giant EA Sports.
Upon his eventual return Tiger was a mere shell of his former self as his performances continued to wane, which resulted in a clear slide down the world rankings, eventually finding himself outside the top 1000 golfers on the planet, which seemed unfathomable in a world he once ruled.
Four major back surgeries were a huge contributing factor as at times it was clear to see he was in excruciating pain whilst on the course, even withdrawing on occasion mid round, he barely even competed between 2015 and 2018 as a result.
Himself included, many believed that this was the curtain call for Tiger’s career as it seemed that there would be no way back from such adversity and so many years in the wilderness in terms of major tour victories.
This victory at Augusta in 2019 marked the return to prominence of one the greatest golfing ambassadors that ever walked the planet, accused by some of being far too egotistical it cannot be denied what Tiger has brought to the game of golf.
Iconic figures of many sports seem to share that inner self belief that can often be misconstrued as arrogance, and in my opinion housing this mindset is what seems to propel these athletes to such monumental success in their chosen field.
Throughout his career Woods has made record busting second nature, placed behind only Jack Nicklaus for all time major victories, and in terms of total PGA tour wins he sits alongside Sam Snead with a monstrous 82 wins and it is surely only a matter of time before he will stand solo at the peak of the mountain top.
Personal misdemeanours aside, Tiger fully deserves his place alongside the likes of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Seve Ballesteros in the pantheon of the sports all time greats.
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