Miraculous Tiger Woods is the Master Once Again
DID that really just happen? Tiger Woods completed what is surely the most remarkable comeback in sport with a sensational victory in The Masters. It is his first major triumph since 2008, when he required 91 holes to overcome Rocco Mediate, and his first Green Jacket since 2005. And there was barely a dry eye in the house as he completed his victory march up the 72nd fairway at Augusta National.
This is a man who, barely 18 months ago, could barely walk and who said he didn’t know if he would ever play competitive golf again. Spinal fusion surgery transformed him, however, and saw him contend at The Open and US PGA Championship last year and finish the season by winning the Tour Championship. But nobody could ever have believed that it would end like this, with 43-year-old Woods finally securing his 15th major. In doing so he joined Jack Nicklaus as the only men to have won The Masters in three different decades. It was also the first major he has won while trailing going into the last round.
The front nine had been a fairly pedestrian affair, with little drama or excitement but, as so often happens at this amazing tournament, it all came alive on the back nine. Open champion Francesco Molinari seemingly had the tournament in his pocket until he came to grief at the par-three 12th. It signalled the start of an incredible spell of golf, with many of the world’s best players suddenly making birdies and eagles for fun and the lead changing hands every few minutes.
But, at the end of it all, Woods was the last man standing - and the patrons just loved it. After he holed the winning putt, he raised his arms to the skies and celebrated as he has never done before, sharing fist bumps with caddie Joe La Cava. The normally reserved patrons broke into chants of “Tiger! Tiger!” as he cuddled his mother and children. Notably, all his main playing rivals were also waiting to congratulate him. It has been a long time coming but for Woods and his fans it was well worth the wait.
“I was just trying to plot my way round and all of a sudden I had the lead,” Woods said. “When the winning putt went in, I just let the emotions out. And it was great to have my kids there at the end. It is overwhelming to win again after everything that has transpired. Last year I was just happy to be playing again. It is unreal for me to experience this. My Mum was here for the first win 1997 and she was here again for me today. This is right up there with my biggest achievements.
“I am at a loss for words right now but the embrace with my son at the end was extra special. I was as patient out there as I have been for years. I kept control of my emotions and my shot placement all week. It all changed at the 12th and there was just an amazing buzz. I kind of liked it."
As the early action unfolded, the big question was: could any of the leaders make an early move? The first to do so was Brooks Koepka, who birdied the par five second hole to move to 11 under par, joining Woods and Tony Finau two behind Molinari.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest galleries were following Woods, Molinari and Finau, with almost every single one of them willing Woods to perform the miracles he has shown us he is capable of performing so many times in the past. And he brought the house down when he birdied the par-four third hole to move to 12 under par, just one behind the Italian. Wearing his traditional final-day red top, the 43-year-old strode to the next tee with the roars of the crowd in his ears. He knew that if he could get on any sort of a run, he would send the patrons wild.
Webb Simpson, who had a putt to equal the course record of 63 on Saturday, began with four straight pars to remain at nine under. Even at this early stage, Molinari, Woods, Finau and Koepka were looking like separating themselves from the rest of the field.
The par-three fourth measures 240 yards and is one of the toughest holes on the course. Woods opted for a four iron but came up short and a poor pitch left him with a 10-foot putt to save his par, but he was unable to convert and dropped back to 11 under. Molinari and Finau both parred the hole.
Phil Mickelson and Patrick Cantlay made early birdies to move to eight under, but they were surely too far behind to make a serious challenge.
Somewhat depressingly, with the pressure off and absolutely no chance of winning the major he needs to complete the career grand slam, Rory McIlroy finally remembered that he is supposed to be the most naturally gifted golfer on the planet. Starting at the 10th, he eagled the 13th and birdied the 15th and played the back nine in 33 and then birdied the first and second to move to six under for the tournament. It was stirring stuff, but it was too little, and it was too late. He would eventually sign for a 68.
Meanwhile back at the business end, the leading group reached the newly-extended fifth hole, a 495-yard par four. Finau and Molinari both went right off the tee, Woods split the fairway, but he and Finau both dropped a shot while Molinari got up and down for par for the 18th time this week - a 100% record. He was still 13 under and now led by three. In seven previous appearances at Augusta, Molinari was 30 over par. How his life and golf game have changed.
The Italian had gone 48 holes without dropping a shot, but he challenged his powers of recovery at the par-three sixth when he cleared the green by a country mile. Woods hit his tee shot to 12 feet but could not convert. Inevitably, Molinari got up and down yet again. Honours even.
Birdies at the sixth and seventh took Ian Poulter to 10 under, making it a four-way tie for second place.
Molinari is one of the straightest hitters in the business, but he missed the seventh fairway to the left and found himself nestled among the giant pine trees. He found a gap but couldn’t reach the green and this time he couldn’t save his par. Woods, meanwhile, hit a wonderful second shot and walked off with a birdie. Molinari 12 under, Woods 11 under, Finau, Koepka, Poulter 10 under. How quickly things can change. Suddenly, game on!
And Koepka closed the gap to one when he birdied the par-five eighth.
The `Italian found a fairway bunker at the par-five eighth and was unable to reach the green in two, while Woods, after spending an age deliberating, hit his second way through the green. Molinari got up and down again for a birdie and Woods followed him in. Molinari back to 13 under. Woods 12 under. A birdie for Finau moved him to 11 under. Koepka completed the front nine in 35 as he reached the turn at 11 under.
Cantlay, who negotiated Augusta National in 64 blows on Saturday, continued his good work, with five birdies in his opening 11 holes moving him to 10 under. Having barely made the 36-hole cut, he was now only three adrift of the leaders.
Woods hit a remarkable putt at the ninth that enabled him to save par, a score that was matched by Finau and Molinari. And so, we moved into the back nine. Tradition, and common sense, has it that this is where the tournament really begins.
Molinari did not play well on the front nine, but his powers of recovery were sensational. Could he hold on? Could Woods really complete the greatest comeback of all? Or was there another twist in the tail? Maybe Xander Schauffele would have something to say about the outcome as he birdied the eighth, ninth and 11th holes to move to 10 under. Or Bubba Watson, who went birdie, birdie, eagle to reach 10 under after 15 holes.
Woods made the worst possible start to the back nine when he carved his three wood at the 10th into the trees on the right. He found a good lie but had no chance of reaching the green in two. Finau and Molinari also failed to find the surface in regulation, but the Open champion played a brilliant recovery to save his par. Woods let one go, as did Finau. Molinari two ahead again. And that was how it remained as they headed to the par-three 12th, the scene of so much drama over the years - and during this final round too, as both Koepka and Poulter found the water.
Unbelievably, Molinari did the same thing on a hole that measures just 155 yards. Woods found the green. Finau found the water. The Italian dropped two shots on this most innocuous looking golf hole to fall back to 11 under and when Woods two-putted he suddenly found himself as joint leader of The Masters. Up ahead, Schauffele birdied the 13th to take his score to 11 under par and into a three-way tie for the lead.
Now we had a tournament on our hands. Justin Thomas had a hole in one at the 16th to move to nine under. Jason Day, Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson and Cantlay were all 10 under. A total of 15 players were within three shots of the lead and when Cantlay holed an eagle putt at the 15th he was the leader on his own on 12 under par. How did that happen? He began the day seven shots behind Molinari.
By now the rain had started to fall. Koepka followed his double-bogey on the 12th with an eagle at the 13th. One behind Cantlay. And still the drama continued, with Schauffele’s birdie at the 14th taking him into a share of the lead. What was that we were saying about the tournament beginning on the back nine?
Molinari still wasn’t finished with this major, however, and birdied the 13th to go back to 12 under, just as Cantlay was dropping a shot at the 16th. Woods also birdied the hole and as he headed to the 14th he was tied for the lead with Molinari and Schauffele.
And just when you thought there couldn’t be any more drama, Rickie Fowler eagled the 15th. 10 under. Are you keeping up?
Day set the clubhouse target when he holed out for a 67 and a 72-hole total of 277, 11 under. Moments later Johnson birdied the 16th and followed it with another at the 17th. At 12 under he was one of four leaders. And that became five when Koepka birdied the 15th.
Molinari’s challenge came to an end at the same hole when he found the water, took seven and fell back to 10 under. Woods, meanwhile, found the green in two and two-putted for a birdie to grab the lead on his own at 13 under par with three holes to go. Johnson had found a fairway bunker at the last and struck a magnificent approach, leaving himself with a 25-foot uphill putt for a birdie to join Woods, but he failed to convert it and would have to wait to find out whether he had done enough.
For many, the greatest shot in Masters history was played by Wood when he holed a chip at the 16th in 2005 - 14 years later he nearly holed his tee shot to set up yet another birdie and now, unbelievably, he was 14 under par, two in front of his nearest challengers. It couldn’t really be happening could it? It could, and it was.
Two pars would do it for him and he duly split the 17th fairway with his drive and left his approach no more than 10 feet from the hole and two-putted for a par. Up ahead, Schauffele parred the 18th for a 68 and a 12-under-par finishing total.
The leader now faced one of the toughest drives in major championship golf, through the avenue of trees at the 18th. He knew that a par would be good enough and when he found the right edge of the fairway, he could start to prepare his victory speech and enjoy the walk, cheered every single inch of the way. As Woods approached his ball, Koepka lined up a 12-footer on the 18th green for a birdie that would take him to within a shot of Woods but when it dribbled by it meant Woods could win his fifth Green Jacket with a bogey. And that is precisely what he did, finishing on 13 under par after a closing round of 70.
Cue the most extraordinary scenes.
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