The golfer’s victory after a past of health and personal problems caps a stunning turnaround
In what is being billed as one of the finest comeback stories in sporting history, Tiger Woods won the Masters on Sunday in Augusta, Georgia.
Woods’ victory, aged 43, takes his tally of major titles – the Masters, US PGA Championship, US Open and Open Championship – to 15. This latest success, though, is being widely heralded as his most remarkable.
Woods underwent surgery on his back for a fourth time in April 2017, which by his own admission was the last throw of the dice in respect of saving a record-breaking career that had regressed towards deep turmoil. In the lead-up to that operation, a spinal fusion, he told of being unable to sit at a dinner table or play with his children due to the extent of his physical impairment.
Those children – daughter Sam, born in 2007, and son Charlie, born in 2009, were on hand as Woods won what is his fifth Masters, as was his mother Kultida. Only one player in history, Jack Nicklaus, has claimed this event more times.
“I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple years ago,” Woods explained. “I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit, couldn’t lay down. I really couldn’t do much of anything. This is just unreal, to be honest with you. This has meant so much to me and my family, this tournament, and to have everyone here, it’s something I’ll never, ever forget.”
The player was a childhood prodigy who escalated golf, in terms of commercial appeal and popularity, into fresh territory from the late 1990s. He became one of the world’s most instantly identifiable sports people. His insistence that golf was an athletic pursuit – Woods’s training has always been famously vigorous – rather than a casual pastime altered the sport’s dynamic and resonated with younger players. That Woods was black, in a sport of traditional white dominance, was also pertinent. Woods routinely suffered prejudicial treatment at golf clubs in his youth.
He became the youngest-ever winner of the Masters in 1997, aged 21, by an astonishing 12-stroke margin and was ranked as the world’s No 1 golfer two months later. Woods subsequently spent a record number of consecutive weeks, 281, and total weeks, 683, in that position.
Woods’s domination of golf was emphasised in 2000, when he won three majors. By the end of 2008, Woods had won 14 majors but injuries were beginning to cause problems. And other issues were to follow.
He crashed his car into a fire hydrant when driving from his home in Florida in the early hours of 27 November 2009, citing a “private matter” as responsible for the incident. Within days, speculation relating to a string of extra-marital affairs had developed into widespread revelations from mistresses.
Woods, who had married Elin Nordegren in 2004, admitted to infidelity. It led to his divorce and a break from professional golf. A string of blue-chip sponsors also dropped Woods from their rosters. In February 2010, in what was as extraordinary a scene then as it looks now, Woods issued a televised apology for his behaviour during which he revealed he had been attending therapy sessions. “I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to,” said Woods.
In a book published in 2017, Woods reflected on the behaviour that cost him his marriage. “Elin and I were so much in love when we married in 2004,” said Woods. “But I betrayed her. My dishonesty and selfishness caused her intense pain. Elin and I tried to repair the damage I had done, but we couldn’t. My regret will last a lifetime.”
As back injuries took hold, Woods had fallen out of the world’s top 500 golfers by May 2016. Eighteen months later, he was 1,193rd. In between those junctures, in May 2017, police footage of a wildly disorientated Woods was beamed across the world after he was arrested in Florida and charged with driving under the influence. A toxicology report showed the golfer had five drugs in his system.
“What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications,” said Woods. “I didn’t realise the mix of medications had affected me so strongly. I would like to apologise with all my heart to my family, friends and the fans. I expect more from myself too. I will do everything in my power to ensure this never happens again.”
After appearing in a courtroom, Woods was ordered to pay a $250 fine, attend a DUI school and perform 20 hours of community service. The golf community had ostensibly given up hope of Woods featuring prominently ever again.
From the start of 2018 and upon healing from the spinal fusion, Woods started to be competitive – and confident – once more. He secured a first tournament victory in more than five years and the 80th as sanctioned by the PGA Tour at East Lake, Atlanta last September amid memorable scenes where he was mobbed by jubilant fans on the closing hole. The next step was major glory; as he returned to where it all began: Augusta National.
“It hasn’t sunk in at all,” Woods addd. “This is one of those things, it’s going to take a little bit of time. To have the opportunity to come back like this, it is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had, for sure.”