Tiger Woods winning a 15th Major title at the US Masters after multiple career-saving back surgeries will be celebrated as one of the most remarkable pieces of sporting theatre known to man.
Living in the past has never felt so good. Tiger Woods produced the most mind-blowing example of mind over matter since spoon-bending became a phenomenon in the 1970s. In the end, they all bent to the iron will of a man whose backbone was ironically the anatomy behind his unfettered success at the 83rd US Masters. Augusta, golf or sport has never seen anything like this.
“I still had the hands to do it. The body is not the same, but I still had good hands,” said Woods in the Butler Cabin after his rousing, succulent Sunday roast as the master of understatement. Most importantly, he still had the mental fortitude to cope with the contours of despair on a course where more dreams are scattered than made.
On Palm Sunday, it was fitting that Tiger Woods, master of his domain a decade ago before the iPhone, tablets and social media became part of the global vibe, had the world in the palm of his hand. Georgia was on his mind. And everybody else’s.
It’s a phenomenon known as déjà vu when you think you come across something you have seen before. Tiger in red on the final day in his Nike clobber, chewing gum and spitting out his rivals in a state of complete bliss at one with his golf game was like an out of body experience.
On Twitter they like to proclaim: this is happening. Well it happened. And it was not because of happenstance.
Woods collecting the green jacket for a fifth time in his 23-year career was the sporting equivalent of building the Hoover Dam in four days. It was so damn good that if you tried to bottle it, and rebrand it as Game of Thrones: Return of the King, critics would have ridiculed it as over the top on series eight.
Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates after sinking his putt on the 18th green to win during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, GeorgiaGetty Images
For a few hours on the Sabbath, golf replaced football as the world game. At 43, Tiger winning the Masters 14 years after his previous success around Augusta in 2005 caused more ripple than the Butterfly effect. This was spiritual, but at the same time substantial. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.
When he needed to produce, he was not found wanting. This was the first time that he had trailed on the final day of a major to win. At one stage, he fell three strokes behind the Open winner Francesco Molinari after two bogeys on the outward nine, but there was a serenity about his gait that suggested he was not going to volunteer his demise as a sacrificial Tiger.
Especially on the 12th hole when he flicked his tee shot safely onto the green for a par while his playing partners Molinari and Tony Finua hit Rae’s Creek.
A closing two-under 70 that included fabulous birdies on the 15th and 16th holes saw him scramble to 13 under, holding off the American trio of Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka by one stroke.
Woods was unfairly viewed as a golfing ghost in recent times, a figure whose glorious past was weaponised to poke fun at his demise via infidelity that ended his marriage in 2010 and a car crash a decade ago that has come to symbolise his descent into torpor. There was also an infamous police mugshot after he conked out at the wheel of his car two years ago. All of this was incomparable to the physical anguish he suffered in trying to fix a failing spine on the back of several knee ops.
The ascension we witnessed a week before Easter was a slice of heavenly divine comedy. Something so illuminating, enlivening, enriching yet so farcical, it makes one wonder what sport really represents. The eccentricities of golf are usurped by the symbolism of such moments. An inspirational life lesson in never entertaining the doubters.
All the money in the world cannot buy the vat of goodwill Woods drank from as his Green Jacket was dusted down him at the same outpost where he apparently told Jack Nicklaus, whose record 18 majors are suddenly back in play, two years ago that he was “done” after being forced to sit out the 2016 and 2017 Masters.
It is difficult to comprehend that this is a man who struggled to tie his own shoes laces after a fourth operation on his crumbling back, a player who battled the potentially fatal chipping yips, whose last Major title came at the US Open in 2008 and a figure who had slipped outside of the world’s top 1000.
Woods’ win was Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974, Roger Federer in Melbourne in 2017, Nicki Lauda a year after Nürburgring in 1977 and Elvis Presley in Burbank in 1968. It was all of them and more. It was magnificently ridiculous, like we had time warped back to 2000.
The final hole was a classic case of game management. Woods navigated his path up the 18th hole knowing he needed five for the title. Why bother about four when you have five for it.
A three wood with a bit taken off it and half-duffed eight iron left him in a decent spot for his pitch. He duly tumbled the ball onto the green before two putts from around 18 feet allowed the crowd around the 18th green to celebrate like they had all been given free medicare. It was a moment to tell the grandkids: I was there.
His own kids will remember this as much as their old man. Woods’ mum stood in the same spot just like she had done 22 years ago when he walloped the field by 12 strokes for his first Masters title aged 21.
Tiger Woods in the Green Jacket–Eurosport
When those who bear witness to the truth return home to pay testament to what Woods just achieved at Augusta, they will speak of the calmness of the man under intense pressure. They might even suggest that Woods was in control of his destiny.
Those who did not think Woods could revive his career to such a level, have clearly not been paying attention. His fused back has propped up his pristine golf swing, and his form has always hinted that another major moment was just around the corner. Even if it was as surreal as the first moon landing when it finally touched down.
He led the Open with eight holes remaining last July only to be undone by Molinari and a few mistakes, and could easily have lifted the USPGA Championship last August if not for Koepke’s class in finishing two strokes above him and nobody else.
His strength of mind is astonishing. Unlike other sports, golf gives you time to think, to contemplate and review. He knew he had it in him to mount such a rousing recovery when he carried off the Tour Championship last year with more fanfare than Dr Dre.
The triumph of the human condition to overcome pain, adversity, self-doubt and self-loathing remains something to behold. In such a respect, Tiger Woods is like a modern day Descartes with a driver. I think, therefore I am.
On a final day that was forced to start early due to foreboding clouds overhead, Woods was the calm before the storm. As good as it gets? Quite possibly, but there are other worlds to be conquered.
The 18 Majors won by Nicklaus are suddenly back in the game. The conversation will inevitably switch back to how, where and when Woods can add to his haul of 15 after 11 years in the wilderness.
“I felt for a long time he was going to win again,” said Nicklaus. “And, you know, the next two majors are at Bethpage, where he’s won (2002 US Open), and Pebble Beach, where he’s won (2000 US Open). So, you know, he’s got me shaking in my boots, guys.”
The evolution complete, the most enticing aspect in all of these miraculous happenings is Woods won’t settle for this as the final denouement. Second place has never been his natural habitat.
Living in the moment has never felt so good.