Tiger Woods is a human highlight reel, a once in a generation athlete who changed his sport forever. It’s been a long time, though, since we’ve been able to say that Tiger Woods was a major champion.
Not since before the world was first enamored of Barack Obama has Tiger won at Augusta National Golf Club. It was way back in 2005, just after the first iPhone debuted, that Tiger last donned the famous green jacket among the striking azaleas at golf’s most storied course.
Sunday saw Tiger starting in the final group, but early in the morning, as the tournament moved all the tee times up several hours to escape surefire afternoon storms. He wasn’t leading, but was instead in a tie for second behind Francesco Molinari, who had been a consistent leader throughout the weekend.
Yet Molinari had never faced the pressure of leading on Sunday at The Masters. For Tiger, it’s old hat. Still, this wasn’t the Tiger of old, fist-pumping his way around the greens. The 43-year-old master playing amongst his Padawans, many of whom became professional golfers because they grew up watching him in the prime of his career, was more stoic and reserved than young Tiger ever was.
He has also become more relaxed, embracing his fellow golfers in a way he never did when he was winning nearly every tournament he played in the late ’90s and early 2000s. And it was a wonderful sight to behold.
Tiger and the Italian Molinari traded the lead throughout most of Sunday, but as the round drew to a close, it was Tiger who was sitting at the top of the leaderboard. Tiger kept himself from making many mistakes in his two under 70 and held off late charges from Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Xander Schauffele to win by one.
For a man who thought just a few years ago that he might never play the game of golf again because of intense back pain, this is truly a comeback for the ages. Over the last decade he’s endured painful surgeries, front-page scandals, and stresses that only the country’s most popular athlete can face.
Many people who are much closer watchers of golf than I am thought Tiger might never come back to challenge Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major wins and six Green Jackets, but with Sunday’s win at Augusta, Tiger is just three away from Jack’s major mark, and only one Green Jacket shy of his Masters record.
Tiger has provided golf some of its greatest moments. After his 1997 win, he ran off the 18th green to embrace his ailing father, who, as Tiger said, “shouldn’t have even been there,” because he was recovering from a recent heart attack. This time, 22 years later, Tiger ran off the 18th green to embrace his son, Charlie, who wasn’t even alive the last time his father won a major tournament. As a parent myself, it was impossible not to get a little emotional watching the two hug like only a father and son can.
From hugging his dad in 1997 to hugging his son in 2019. Tiger Woods is Masters champion once more. pic.twitter.com/oKcWchIxsG
— Frank Pallotta (@frankpallotta) April 14, 2019
Now we’ll see if Tiger can continue the momentum he’s built with fine play at recent tournaments, and his victory this week at The Masters. No one will dare count out the greatest golfer anymore. No doubt he has his eyes set on Jack’s final records, something he’s been eyeing since he was just a three-year-old golf phenom.