Tiger Woods was the most dominant athlete on the planet during the first decade of the 21st Century.
Woods began his professional golf career by winning the 1997 Masters by a record 12 strokes. Less than a year after turning pro, Woods was the top-ranked golfer in the world. He was ranked No. 1 in the world golf rankings for 545 weeks. He won thirteen more major championships. Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 strokes, the largest margin in major championship history. In April 2001, he completed the “Tiger Slam,” winning the Masters to become the only player to hold all four majors at the same time. In June 2008, Woods won the U.S Open in a playoff at Torrey Pines with a torn ACL and a broken leg. It was his 14th major victory, four short of Jack Nicklaus’ record. A week later, he had reconstructive surgery. Woods’ meteoric rise and decade of dominance was soon followed by an abrupt collapse.
Woods' fall from grace started in August 2009. He led the PGA Championship by two strokes going into the final round. Woods had never lost a major championship after holding the 54-hole lead. He shot 75 in the final round and lost to Y.E Yang by three shots. People thought Woods would bounce back. Those people were wrong.
On Nov. 27, 2009, Tiger Woods crashed his SUV into a tree and a fire hydrant outside his home. Within a few weeks, his personal life began to unravel with reports of multiple extramarital affairs. He spent 45 days in a sexual rehabilitation clinic and he didn’t return to golf until the 2010 Masters. Woods finished fourth at the 2010 and 2011 Masters, but injuries began to their toll on his body. He sprained his MCL and left Achilles in 2011. He withdrew from the Players Championship in May and fired his longtime caddy Steve Williams in July. He spent much of 2012 managing injuries before winning his first PGA tour event since 2009. He won five times in 2013 and returned being the best golfer in the world. This second run would be short lived.
In April 2014, Woods had his first back surgery a week before the Masters and missed the tournament for the first time in his career. In August, he missed the cut at the PGA Championship and took the rest of the year off to get healthy. Woods battled the yips for the majority of 2015. Woods underwent his second back surgery in September and his third in October. He would later admit that he didn’t know if he would ever play again.
In January 2017, Woods made his first PGA Tour start since 2015 and missed the cut. In April, he had a fourth back surgery, this time to fuse his lower back. A month later, he was arrested and briefly jailed on suspicion of DUI. Police found him asleep behind the wheel of his car in the early morning with the engine running. He attributed it to a bad combination of pain medication.
Woods' historic comeback began in March 2018. He finished one shot back and tied for second at the Valspar Championship, his first top-five finish on the PGA Tour since 2013. In July, he took the lead on the back nine at the Open Championship at Carnoustie, but double bogeyed the 12th hole in route to a tie for sixth place. In August, he fired a final round 64, his lowest final round in a major, and was the runner-up to Brooks Koepka in the PGA Championship. He won the Tour Championship in September for his 80th career victory on the PGA Tour, leaving him two shy of the record help by Sam Snead.
This past weekend, 43-year-old Tiger Woods strolled into Augusta National Golf Club knowing he could win the whole thing. People expected a decent finish from Woods, but no one really thought he would win. When Woods was in his prime, he was hitting the ball 50 yards farther than everyone else. Now, the majority of tour players hit the ball farther than him. He didn’t intimidate these guys like he did in the early 2000s. Woods came out on Thursday and shot a 2-under par 70, four shots behind the leaders. Three of the four times he won the Masters, he’s shot 70 in Thursday’s round 1. He shot 68 on Friday and 67 on Saturday, putting him two behind Francesco Molinari going into Sunday. He had never come from behind to win a major. Tiger walked onto the first tee in his black hat, black pants, and red mock turtleneck. You just knew something special was about to happen.
They say the Masters doesn’t really start until the back nine on Sunday. That was especially true this year. Going into Amen Corner, Woods was still two shots back of Molinari. The final group came to the 12th hole, the famous par three that has produced some of the greatest shots and worst collapses in Masters history. Molinari stepped up to the tee. His shot landed on the front of the bank and rolled back into the water. Woods made par. Molinari made double bogey, leaving Woods tied for the lead on Sunday at the Masters. He birdied holes 13 and 15 and walked to the 16th tee with a one-shot lead. The 16th hole has seen some of the greatest shots in golf, especially from Woods. This year, Woods' tee shot on the par three 16th was perfect and ended up 18 inches from the pin. He took a two-shot lead to the 17th hole. Woods never looked back, and won his fifth green jacket, completing the greatest comeback in sports history.
Think of the best comebacks in sports. I thought of the 2004 ALCS, when the Boston Red Sox came back from a three games to none deficit to beat the New York Yankees and went on to win their first World Series in 86 years. The 2016 NBA Finals, when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the 73-win Golden State Warriors after being down 3-1. The 2016 World Series, when the Chicago Cubs broke the curse and beat the Cleveland Indians after losing three of the first four games to win their first World Series in 108 years. Super Bowl LI, when Tom Brady led the Patriots to a victory after being down 28-3 in the third quarter. When Tua Tagovailoa led Alabama to a national championship in the 2018 College Football Playoff after taking over for Jalen Hurts at halftime.
From the dominance, to the car crash, to the infidelities, to the injuries and the mugshot, Tiger Woods has come full circle. Almost 4,000 days went by between his 14th and 15th major championship victory. From being ranked No. 1,199 in the world in 2017, to winning his 15th Major at a place that has seen golf’s greatest accomplishments. Tiger has completed his comeback, and it’s the best one I’ve ever seen.