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Where Does Tiger's Victory Figure in Sport's Greatest Comebacks?

By: | Mon 15 Apr 2019

THE arguments have already begun. Was Tiger Woods’ victory at The Masters the greatest sporting comeback of them all? Before we go any further, I will lay my cards on the table and say that I believe it was, given everything that he has been through in recent years. When he announced his comeback he was ranked outside the top 1,000 in the world and was recovering from spinal fusion surgery. He had hardly played any competitive golf in the best part of three years, had withdrawn from tournaments and looked a shadow of his former self. 

His victory at the 2019 Masters was his first success in a major since he won the 2008 US Open - you may remember that he required 91 holes to see off Rocco Mediate and he did so with a broken leg. No matter what you think of his personal life, and I am not here to defend that, it is impossible not to admire the grit and sheer bloody-minded determination he has shown to get back to this stage in his career. And don’t forget that he is now 43 years old.

When it comes to golf, the physical battles that the great Ben Hogan overcame are unsurpassed. In 1949, the Texan's car crashed into a bus, narrowly surviving the experience, as he threw himself across his wife to protect her. In the accident, he suffered a double-fracture of the pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a left ankle fracture, a chipped rib, and near-fatal blood clots. He faced lifelong circulation problems and physical limitations. Having been told that he may never walk again, Hogan returned to golf and won six major championships, including the Masters, US Open and Open in 1953. Extraordinary.

Here we look at some other headline-grabbing comebacks that give Tiger a run for his money.

Muhammad Ali

“The Greatest” can lay a legitimate challenge to Woods. After refusing to be inducted into the US army in 1966, world heavyweight champion Ali was effectively banned from boxing for three years between 1967 and 1970. It meant Ali missed some of the peak years of his career before he was eventually allowed to return to the ring.  He attempted to regain his title in 1971 'against Joe Frazier but suffered the first defeat of his career after losing by unanimous decision. In 1974, Ali was given no chance as he attempted to regain his title against George Foreman in the 'Rumble of the Jungle’. But the then-32-year-old Ali pulled off one of the great upsets by confounding Foreman with his 'rope-a-dope' tactics before scoring an eighth round knockout.

Roger Federer

The greatest tennis player of all time was ranked 17th in the world when he arrived at the Australian Open in January 2017 with minimal expectations after missing the last six months of the 2016 season with a knee injury.  No one expected him to end his five-year barren run at the slams at Melbourne Park but incredibly, the then 35-year-old came from a break down in the fifth set to beat his great rival Rafael Nadal in the final. It handed Federer a record-extending 18th grand slam title. He has since won two more majors to take his haul to 20. 

Niki Lauda

Lauda was cruising towards a second Formula One world championship in 1976 when disaster struck at the German Grand Prix in Nürburgring. Lauda's Ferrari swerved off the track and struck an embankment, before exploding in flames. Lauda was trapped in the wreckage and suffered severe burns before being pulled to safety.  Incredibly, he returned to racing 43 days later at the Italian Grand Prix. He would go on to win two more drivers championships before retiring.

Greg LeMond

The US cycling legend came within 20 minutes of bleeding to death after a hunting accident in California in 1987. The then-reigning Tour de France champion was hit by more than 60 pellets after being shot by his uncle during a wild turkey hunt. He was airlifted to hospital and lost an estimated 65% of his blood volume. Injuries from the accident forced him to miss the next two editions of the Tour de France, but he returned in 1989 to win by eight seconds after a thrilling duel with Laurent Fignon.

Monica Seles

Seles looked poised to rule women's tennis in the early 1990s, becoming the youngest woman to reach the world number one ranking in 1991 before winning three out of four grand slam singles titles in 1992 with victories at the Australian, French and US Open. In 1993 she again looked set to dominate, opening the year by winning the Australian Open with a defeat of German rival Steffi Graf. In April, however, Seles was stabbed by a deranged spectator while playing at a tournament in Hamburg. Although she soon recovered from her injuries, Seles would not play for two more years. She returned in 1995, and the following year she won her 10th and last grand slam singles title with victory at the Australian Open. 

George Foreman

Foreman faded into obscurity after his stunning defeat by Muhammad Ali in the 'Rumble in the Jungle' in 1974, fighting six more times before retiring in 1977 after losing to Jimmy Young. But in 1987 he confounded he returned to the ring at the age of 40, fighting in a series of low-key bouts at a time when Mike Tyson ruled the division. He failed with his first attempt to regain a world title when he was beaten by Evander Holyfield on points in 1991. However, three years later Foreman was on top of the world, defeating Michael Moorer by knockout to claim the title 20 years after he had last held it. At 45 he was the oldest ever heavyweight world champion.

England cricket team

The Headingley Test in July 1981 is one of the most famous Ashes encounters. Australia made 401 for nine declared and dismissed England for 174 and enforced the follow-on. They quickly had the home side in trouble again and were coasting towards victory when Ian Botham came to the wicket. He smashed a sensational 149 runs as England made an unlikely 356. But the tourists were still expected to win. Until Bob Willis started steaming in. The fast bowler was almost unplayable as he took eight wickets and the Aussies were dismissed for 111. England had been on the floor but went on to win the Ashes.

Boston Red Sox

The year was 2004 and the Boston Red Sox Major League baseball team finally erased an 86-year drought that had been dubbed the Curse of the Bambino when they won their first World Series title since 1918 after trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. It came after Boston had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Yankees to claim the best of seven American League championship. 

Oracle Team USA

New Zealand were coasting towards victory in sailing’s America’s Cup. The Kiwis required just one more victory to take the trophy from Oracle Team USA in San Francisco Bay. But the Americans had other ideas. Incredibly, they won seven consecutive races to retain sailing’s oldest trophy and break the hearts of the New Zealanders. They had trailed 8-1.

Andre Agassi

The American, who never made any great secret of the fact that he didn’t enjoyed playing tennis for a living, finished 1997 ranked 141st in the world, his career seemingly in terminal decline. But he decided to give it one more go. He went away, worked furiously, got himself properly git and, against all the odds, finished 1999 as the world’s top-ranked male player. Just for good measure, he also threw in a victory at the French Open, beating Andrei Medvedev in the final.

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