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With tweets of congratulations from Barack Obama and Donald Trump, from Tom Brady and Stephen Curry, Tiger Woods seems to be one of the few figures in American sport that can unite an increasingly fractured country across class, race and religious codes.
In the country of Hollywood, there is no place in the world that loves a redemption story more than the United States and Tiger’s fifth Green Jacket has given it possibly the perfect ending.
For Tiger, this will only be the beginning of what will be a considered push to finally break Jack Nicklaus’ record. But at 43, Tiger knows these types of days are special and should be cherished given the lows his career has hit.
When you think of another transcendent athlete he has often been compared to, Roger Federer, it has been a clean-cut career where the lows have extended to going without a Grand Slam for five years after losing in a few finals. It has been far from free-sailing for Tiger, who has suffered some of the biggest lows of any great sportsperson ever. We’re talking about not only health, but public humiliation and a Space Jam-like desertion of his abilities.
The sex scandal was obviously a self-inflicted wound, but it led to Tiger’s face on the front of US tabloid magazines for a month or more and a real embarrassment that forced Woods off the course for four months in what should have been the peak of his golfing life. Despite the fact he had won regular PGA Tour events since, the fact that the sex scandal came after his last major win meant that always hung in the background as a perceived loss of aura.
In terms of health, Tiger completed two tournaments in two years, one a low-key invitational event he hosts, the other a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. From 2014 to 2017, Woods completed 19 tournaments, while his rivals would have played more than 100 times.
In 2015, where he played the most of his golf, Woods was, quite frankly, abysmal. He shot an 85 at Muirfield Village at the Memorial Tournament, one that he had won five times before, hitting into the water four times on one round. He suffered from the chipping yips, with a scrambling rate of just over 40 per cent, making him the worst on Tour in getting up-and-down.
He went into the Open Championship at St Andrews, a place where he had won two majors before, and basically duffed two shots short of the burn at the easy first hole en route to missing the cut. It was a tough watch and something that must have been demoralising internally, a man who had played the game to a higher level than any player in history, hitting shots that would make some amateur players blush.
In 2017, he spoke pessimistically about his back problems, wondering if he would ever play golf again, never mind compete on the golf course. A miraculous fusion surgery changed his outlook and it all picked up from there.
It was these lows that set the context for this Masters victory. This wasn’t a domination of the field like 1997, or it didn’t have a moment like the chip-in in 2005, although the tee-shot at 16 was special. Tiger stuck in it and watched Francesco Molinari fade away on the back 9 and grinded out his first major coming from behind.
The crowd chanting his name would give goosebumps to even the greatest cynic. It was a truly special moment. Gone was the ice-cold winning machine Tiger, instead here was a more human golfer.
You don’t know what got ‘til it’s gone. Amid all the turmoil in different parts of his life, Tiger was back home where he was most comfortable, winning major championships.
When Tiger tapped in on 18 for a one-stroke victory, the release of emotion was unprecedented. Tiger spoke in 2017 about how his kids never “understood what I’ve been able to do in the game because they always think I’m the ‘YouTube’ golfer. They’ve never seen me in action.” Waiting on the final green was Tiger’s son Charlie, 22 years after Tiger’s dad waited on him after his victory.
“My dad shouldn’t have come in ’97,” Woods said. “He had heart complications, and wasn’t supposed to fly, but he flew and came. Gave me a putting lesson on Wednesday night, and the rest is history.
“My dad’s no longer here, but my mom’s here, 22 years later, and I happen to win the tournament; and then to have both Sam and Charlie here, for them to see what it’s like to have their dad win a major championship, I hope that’s something they will never forget.”
We will never forget it either.