Having completed one of the most improbable comebacks in sports, an unfathomable revival, Tiger Woods walked off the 18th green at Augusta National on Sunday and wrapped his children in his arms — first his 10-year-old son, Charlie, then his 11-year-old daughter, Sam. He had won the Masters for a fifth time.
The emotional, full-circle moment was reminiscent of one in 1997, when Woods won his first Masters — and first of 15 major championships — and fell into the arms of his late father, Earl.
“My dad’s no longer here, but mom’s here 22 years later,” said Woods, 43, who went two years without playing in a major and was 780th in the Official World Golf Ranking after the 2017 Masters. “And I happen to win the tournament.”
It’s a victory many thought would never come. In the 11 years since he last won a major, Woods saw a string of personal scandals sully his once-impeccable reputation and endured four back surgeries that, as recently as two years ago, left him unable to get out of bed, let alone play golf.
“I could barely walk,” he said. “I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lay down. I really couldn’t do much of anything.
“Luckily, I had the procedure on my back, which gave me a chance at having a normal life. But then all of a sudden, I realized I could actually swing a golf club again. I felt if I could somehow piece this together that I still had the hands to do it. The body’s not the same as it was a long time ago, but I still have good hands.”
Woods, in his newest green jacket, used those hands to lift the Masters trophy Sunday as he stood in the middle of the Augusta putting green, which was encircled by thousands of fans chanting his name. At 43, he became the second-oldest Masters winner behind Jack Nicklaus, who was 46 when he won in 1986.
Woods set a record for the longest period between Masters wins. It had been 14 years since his last victory in 2005, beating the mark of 13 years held by Gary Player (1961-74).
“A big ‘well done’ from me to Tiger,” Nicklaus tweeted after the win. “I am so happy for him and for the game of golf. This is just fantastic!!!”
Woods shot a 2-under-par 70, with three birdies on his final six holes, to overtake 54-hole leader Francesco Molinari — who outdueled him in last year’s British Open — and edge Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka by one stroke.
Every other time Woods had won a major, he began the final round with at least a share of the lead. This was the first time he overcame a 54-hole deficit to prevail.
Sports history is replete with comeback stories, among them golfer Ben Hogan returning from a car accident that nearly killed him to win the 1950 U.S. Open, George Foreman stepping back into the boxing ring at 45, and quarterback Peyton Manning winning a Super Bowl after being sidelined by four neck surgeries. Woods weathered a messy divorce, a DUI arrest and a career that had corkscrewed into the ground.
“It’s crazy,” said fellow golfer Rickie Fowler, who finished tied for ninth. “I have no doubt this is going to be his most special one yet. To get his 15th [major] after a lot of years away from competitive golf, to be in a position where he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play again, it’s cool stuff.”
As he was leaving the course and heading for a cart to take him to the media center, Woods spotted a familiar face in the crowd, Hal Jacobs of La Jolla, and gave him a bear hug that lifted him off his feet. The two have become friends in recent years after playing in a pro-am tournament together.
“We were with him three years ago when he could barely walk,” said Jacobs, owner of Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa. “And now for him to come back and win the most important tournament in the world for him is just amazing.
“Even at that time three years ago, we were having dinner with him and he was saying, ‘I just need one hot streak.’ It was really important for him to get back out there.”
In September, Woods picked up his first victory since 2013 when he won the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. But that wasn’t the magnitude of winning a major.
Woods — who has gone from an excitable, fist-pumping icon to a calmer, guarded, more introspective father — said he was determined to win a major for his children. They saw him lose a final-round British Open lead to Molinari last July in Carnoustie, Scotland.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen to them twice,” he said with a smile. “So for them to see what it’s like for their dad to win a major championship, I hope that’s something they will never forget.”