‘Tiger Woods’ Masters win is sporting comeback of the decade’
Five years ago, when I was already plenty old enough to know better, I went to Orlando to chronicle the end of Tiger Woods’ career. I visited some of the landmarks of his fall, like the Perkins restaurant at the corner of Conroy and Apopka Vineland where he began the affair with a waitress that led to the end of his marriage. Like him, the clapboard building looked sad and vacant.I went to the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, once a symbol of Woods’ status as the sport’s greatest draw since Arnie’s Army followed the King from tee to green.
Woods, now ranked 87 in the world, was absent this year and the tournament was feting Rory McIlroy. EA Sports had just revealed McIlroy was to be the cover star of their golf game after Woods had fronted it for 15 years.It was being said that Woods had now entered the freak show phase of his career. There were no golfing triumphs to write about any more. Instead, he made the headlines when he wore a skull mask disguise to support his then girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn, at a ski event in Italy and lost a tooth in a collision with a television camera.
Three years later I made a copycat trip to his new home in a different part of Florida. By now, even some of his greatest admirers were practically begging him to retire. I drove past his mansion on Jupiter Island. On one of his practice holes there, he had suffered back spasms so severe he had had to scream for help because he could not get up. Woods could barely walk, let alone play golf.He had just returned from a 15-month absence from the game. In his third tournament back, he hit an opening-round five over par 77 and withdrew after suffering back spasms. When his Tiger Woods Foundation hosted the Genesis Open at the Riviera Club in Pacific Palisades, he wasn’t even fit enough to make the press conference.
Soon after, when police footage emerged of him bleary-eyed and bloated with pain-killing drugs, having fallen asleep at the wheel of his stationary Mercedes, it felt as if his fall was close to becoming a tragedy.People had moved beyond worrying about his golf. Now they were just worried about him. As far as his career as a sportsman went, though, everyone agreed he was done. That was in May 2017. He had not won a Major since 2008. The thought of him winning another seemed even more fanciful than the idea of Leicester City winning the Premier League.
All anybody hoped for was that he might be able, at some point, to enjoy some sort of family life with his daughter and son and do more than eke out an existence dominated by pain.It was for all those reasons that watching from the back of the 18th green at Augusta National on April 14, were the greatest moments of sport I saw in 2019.
Liverpool’s Anfield revival against Barcelona was astonishing, Ben Stokes’ redemption stories at Lord’s and Headingley were breathtaking but the greatest comeback of them all happened that day in Georgia.Why? Well, Woods is possibly the greatest athlete of his generation. A previous era had Muhammad Ali as its symbol. Another had Michael Jordan. For Millennials and those just before them, the greatest was Woods. And this was his resurrection.
On the Friday evening of the Masters, I had sat in the big grandstand overlooking the 15th green with Michael Atherton, the former England cricket captain who had battled chronic back issues for his entire career.When Woods sank a 20ft putt for birdie to get his name on the leaderboard, Atherton could not contain himself. He knew something of what Woods had been through even to be a contender again. He recognised greatness on the charge.
On Sunday, I went to Amen Corner, one of the greatest natural arenas in sport, to see Woods’ group go through.
Francesco Molinari was leading the tournament by two shots from Woods but there was magic in the air. The pull of history was starting to feel overwhelming. The scent of a miracle was growing stronger. Molinari put his tee shot at the 12th into Rae’s Creek.I spent the next couple of hours sitting at the back of the 18th green, waiting for the moment.
The world’s greatest golfers walked up the fairway in threes at 10-minute intervals but no one was watching them. The patrons’ eyes were glued to the giant scoreboard behind the green. And they listened for clues that blew in the gentle breeze.A huge roar from the valley below told us Woods had birdied the 15th again. The operators changed the figures on the board. When Woods’ name was slotted back into place, it confirmed he had moved to 13-under par and now held the outright lead. It could not really be happening but somehow it was.
When he played his approach into the 18th and began the walk up the hill towards the green with a three-shot lead, everyone knew they were watching not just one of the moments of the year, or of the decade, but one of the greatest triumphs in the history of sport.Woods’ 15th Major was a triumph of enduring talent but it was also a triumph of will, a victory for self-belief and for perseverance and for indomitability and for longevity and for greatness.
When he won his first Major at Augusta 22 years earlier, Woods had hugged his father. Now, at the back of the 18th green, he hugged his children. It was, as they are fond of saying in the States, one for the ages.
Culled from dailymail.co.uk
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