Tiger Woods has completed what may be the greatest comeback in golf history – and perhaps in all of sports – by winning the Masters for the fifth time at Augusta National.
Eleven years after his previous major victory, and 22 years after his first Masters win, Woods outlasted his competitors on an epic final day to win by a shot.
At 43, he now has 15 major championships, within three of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.
Ben Hogan’s return from a near-fatal car accident to win the US Open in 1950 is the only golf comeback story that comes near Woods’ return.
But in this instance the injuries that threatened to end Woods’ career – multiple knee surgeries and back operations including a spinal fusion – are augmented by public humiliation over his philandering and the loss of his marriage, and an arrest for driving under the influence of multiple painkilling drugs.
He has been to places no golfer has been before, which is why he celebrated with a guttural roar and double fist pumps when he tapped in the final putt, then lifted his son Charlie off the ground in an embrace as he walked off he green. His family – mother Tida, children Charlie, 10, and Sam, 11, and partner Erica Herman – were right there to witness what will go down as the most remarkable scene golf has produced.
He’d convinced the children to come up from Florida today to watch the final round after Sam lost a state soccer tournament on Saturday; Woods has often said he regretted that his children were too young to have seen him win more tournaments and grand prizes. Now, they know that feeling too.
Ironically for a player with more x-factor than any ever seen, Woods won it by what he called “plodding my way around” Augusta National on a final day that began early in the morning because of the threat of a storm.
He shot 70 – less than spectacular, but steady enough – and he bogeyed the last hole.
But by then, he had ground down his immediate opposition with his steadiness under the pressure of a back-nine Augusta Sunday. A few of them fell away under the blow torch, notably overnight leader Francesco Molinari, who made two fatal double bogeys at the par-three 12th and the par-five 15th, both times finding the water.
Molinari shot a 74 and ended up tied-fifth. His only consolation was to have witnessed up-close a performance that will go down in the annuls of the game.
At 13-under overall, Woods won by a shot from Americans Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka. The group of Molinari, Australia’s Jason Day (67 today), Webb Simpson and Tony Finau were a further shot back at 11-under. It is the first time in his log of 15 majors that he has come from behind at the 54-hole mark.
In truth, there were up to eight or nine players who could have won. Molinari looked steadiest on the front nine, holding his two-shot lead, but his limp short iron at the 12th bounced off the bank and into Rae’s Creek, and that opened the door for everyone else. At one point on the back nine there were four leaders; then at another juncture, Patrick Cantlay eagled the 15th to take the outright lead. It was an astonishing finish, encapsulated by the fact that four of the last five players who went through that famous No. 12 hole hit their balls into Rae’s Creek.
Woods was quiet early, still even-par for the day through 12 holes. But at the 13th he capitalised on the par-five with a birdie after hitting the green in two, and the par-five 15th he hit a beautiful mid-iron shot on to the green for another eagle try, ultimately rolling in the birdie to take the lead outright.
His playing moment to savour came at the 16th tee, with a one-shot lead, where his short iron shot pitched up on the right shelf of the green and funnelled down almost into the hole, as though it was in slow motion. The roars that were emanating from that part of the course must have been heard all around Georgia in those moments. He tapped in the four-footer for birdie, led by two, and held firm from there.
At the 18th tee he had a two-shot lead and he hit a conservative three wood off the tee, then a poor second shot short of the green, overcutting it to take it around the trees, and leaving himself some work to do, 30 metres away from the flag. Pitching to four metres, his birdie putt for the exclamation mark finish lipped out, and ultimately, it was a tap-in from point blank range for bogey that completed this remarkable tale.
Outside the scoring area, a host of other professionals were waiting to congratulate Woods. Of all people, they know how difficult his journey back to the top has been.
“I’m a little hoarse from yelling!’’ he said at the green jacket presentation. “I was just trying to plod my way around the golf course all day, just plod my way around. All of a sudden I had the lead. You know, coming up 18 it was just ‘try to make a five’. When I tapped the putt in, I don’t know what I did. I know I screamed. I was just looking for Joey (caddie Joe LaCava) somewhere. We had an embrace.
“To have my kids there, it’s come full circle. My Dad was here in ’97, and now I’m the Dad with my two kids there.’’
Of the Australians, Day was the closest, tied for fifth after his best day of the week. When he signed for his 67 he was just a shot from the lead, but it was always likely to be a forlorn hope, and he was soon pushed down the leaderboard.
-12 Koepka, D Johnson, Schauffele
-11 DAY, Simpson, Finau
-10 Rahm, Cantlay, Fowler