Tiger Woods Now Has Ending Chapter His Career Deserved
From the age of three, when he appeared with cultural icons Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart on the Mike Douglas Show to demonstrate his uncanny skills with a golf club, the world has intently followed the life and career of Tiger Woods. In the ancient game’s equivalent of The Truman Show, we have seen him grow, spectacularly rise, achieve the improbable, but fall dramatically into disgrace, and repeatedly fail to recover from that mire. The most dominant sportsman on the planet was transformed into a figure of ridicule, little more than a jokey punchline on TV.
This has all been played out in full view of the overwhelming gaze of the public.
However, on Sunday at Augusta National, we witnessed the sporting equivalent of a resurrection. Astonishingly, this most scrutinised and compelling of journeys came full circle to an operatic crescendo that reverberated between the Georgia pines in an emotional release of energy.
There was the game-changing breakthrough in 1997, the dominant triumphs at Pebble Beach and St Andrews – likely the finest golf ever played – and the animalistic determination that characterised his performance in the 2008 US Open. But this one was different. This was unfathomable.
Eleven years had passed since his most recent major victory, but time elapsed is only part of the tale. There was the major knee surgery in the aftermath of that hard-fought 14th title, the public humiliation attached to the revelation of his multiple affairs and subsequent marriage collapse. THAT apology. He continued to win on the PGA Tour and contended in the biggest championships, but it was never quite the same. There was a vulnerability to this once most impenetrable of athletes. Physically and mentally. He was broken.
Injuries eventually took their toll, the surgeries continued to be tallied up quicker than his most impressive runs of title victories, eventually reaching a stage despair that even the man himself couldn’t deny.
“Pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy,” he said in December 2015. “I miss being able to play with the kids. I just can’t bend over that well or I’m not athletic to be able to do those things.” Unable to function as an energetic father, never mind playing golf at the highest level, he had set no timetable for a comeback. He was a prisoner inside his own body. Maybe this was it.
Surprisingly returning to competitive action 12 months later, this hopeful renaissance proved disastrous, leading to tournament withdrawals and back fusion in April 2017, just two years ago. Weeks on, there was the shocking reveal of the mugshot and footage from his arrest for a suspected DUI. This was definitely it. He was done. What a sad ending to the most extraordinary of careers.
Dr. gave me the ok to start pitching pic.twitter.com/tboq1L3Xdn— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) August 31, 2017
It began with a social media post and the clip of a figure in shorts and white shirt hitting pitch shots. That was in the August of that year, less than 20 months ago. He was threatening another comeback. The book was reopened, and the next chapter was about to be written, but would it be triumphant or tragic?
“I was very lucky to be given another chance to do something that I love to do. I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple of years ago,” he said.
“I couldn't lay down; I couldn't do much of anything. I had the procedure which gave me a chance of having a normal life.
“All of a sudden I realised I could swing a club again. I felt if I could somehow piece this together, I still had the hands to do it. The body is not the same, but I still had good hands."
Tiger Woods progressively rediscovered himself. He flirted with success in Florida, briefly led the Open Championship entering the back-nine at Carnoustie – that was stratospheric – before making a run at the PGA Championship, only being denied by an inspired Brooks Koepka. And there was the Tour Championship. That was remarkable enough, but was that going to be the best it got?
Returning to his original playground at the Masters, he was considered among the favourites. His steely focus – for a time softened during the early stages of his return – had been restored.
Forcing himself into the final grouping with a 67 on Saturday, there was a heavy, weighted air on those last 18 holes, and not just as a result of impending storms. It was engrossing rather than thrilling, until the leaders came to the iconic 12th – Golden Bell – the shortest on the course but often the deadliest. Koepka, Ian Poulter, Tony Finau, the seemingly inscrutable Francesco Molinari. They all found the water. And it was time for the big cat to pounce.
Birdies at the 13th, 15th and 16th had taken the once impossible into the verge of reality. Tiger conjured up his greatest trick yet. He had beaten the youngsters who were he inspired. The prodigious Koepka narrowly missed a balloon popping birdie on the final hole, and the stage was now clear for the most extraordinary of scenes to envelope once Woods had completed the most surreal of triumphs. Those roars. That reaction. Indescribable. Unforgettable. "We did it, we did it."
“I'm a little hoarse from yelling,” he reflected. “I was just trying to plod my way around all day then all of a sudden I had the lead.
“Coming up 18 I was just trying to make a five. When I tapped in, I don't know what I did, I know I screamed.
“To have my kids there, it's come full circle. My dad was here in 1997 and now I'm the dad with two kids there.
“To have the opportunity to come back like this, you know it's probably one of the biggest wins I've ever had for sure. It's got to be right up there; with all the things I've battled through.”
Mother Tida, 11-year-old daughter Sam, 10-year-old son Charlie, and girlfriend Erica were there to experience it with him. This was as much a win for Tiger the man as it was the golfer. Even more so, clearly. He had managed to overcome the most formidable of obstacles, much of them self-inflicted.
For all his displays of near-perfection around the turn of the century, there was a machine-like quality to Woods that made it difficult for some to embrace. We remember the most human triumphs – when the veneer was briefly dropped – such as the hug with Earl, the tears at Hoylake, and now this transcendent success down Magnolia Lane. Tiger, the stoic competitor may have taken the lead, but it was Tiger the human who won the Green Jacket.
He once again made a believer out of us all.
The remarkable achievements of Ben Hogan – who battled physical limitations of a life-threatening car accident to win six major championships – is unsurpassable in terms of a comeback, but there has never been a greater tale than the one that we have witnessed Tiger Woods write for decades. The complexity of his personal struggles, added to the injuries, make this incomparable.
For years, the question regarding Tiger has been; “What if? What could have been?”
Now, it’s going to be; “What next?”
Holding 15 majors, he stands three from the total of the legendary Jack Nicklaus, and one from the PGA Tour record held by Sam Snead. Tiger’s ascent to greatness was prematurely postponed for a decade – but it has resumed once again. He's even saying things like: "High bomb draws, squeezer hot cuts, and little spinners". All that matters is that he can translate that.
But who knows what to expect in future. Tiger could win five majors, or none at all. Somehow, it doesn’t matter. His remarkable story has been granted the final chapter it deserved. The one that we craved on this path we have shared with him.
We were privileged to witness the era of Tiger Woods, and we should be grateful for having seen that magic rekindled one more time.
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