Clearly, the 70-something gentleman on crutches in front of me at Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson Airport check-in line was returning home from Augusta National Golf Club. The deep blue T-shirt, proudly displaying the famous Masters logo in yellow on his chest, and the foldable patron’s chair wrapped in the tournament green slung across his frail shoulders were dead giveaways.
I could identify him as a Masters patron, and so could the police officer strolling there. The ensuing conversation between them is worth reporting in the context of this article.
Cop: “Enjoyed the trip to the Masters, sir?”
Old Man: “Yup. My first…and guess what?!! Tiger won! I told my daughter I can now die in peace.”
Old Man’s Daughter: “Just hold that thought Pops. You are not dying anytime soon. Tiger’s gonna win his 16th major, and then his 17th and then match Jack’s (Nicklaus) 18th, and then beat it with his 19th. And you are going to be here to watch them all.”
That’s what Tiger Woods does. He gives hope and faith to millions. He did it again and again during the glory days of 1997 to 2009, and after going through years of physical and mental trauma, he resurfaced like a superhero when the world needed him most.
Well… golf does not have villains in the league of Joker and Lex Luthor. But from Woods’ point of view, the list of opposition was growing by the day.
To begin with, there are a number of talented young stars – most of them inspired to take up the game because of Woods – playing well and showing no fear in taking him on.
Coupled to that is his own age. At 43, he is no spring chicken, and also a victim of his own success. There was a time when golfers were said to mature in their late 30s and their best years was between 35 and 45. But thanks to Woods and his ways, there has been a seismic shift in the demography of successful players. More and more players in their early 20s are now becoming superstars.
The injuries and their after-effects over the last decade will take up most space in this article, but suffice to say that the four back and two knee surgeries are just some of the price Woods had to pay in his quest to become the best in the game.
Then there is the psychological aspect of being the game’s most celebrated serial winner, and finding later that even taking a simple swing of the golf club is the most painful thing to do. Let’s also not forget the shame of watching his carefully-constructed image crumbling under the repeated onslaught of sex scandals in 2009. As well, the addiction to painkillers that actually caused his arrest for suspected driving under influence as recently as in May 2017.
In winning his 81st title on the PGA Tour and the 15th major title – which came after a gap of 10 years and 10 months – and his fifth Masters Green Jacket (his first since 2005), Woods has proved something that he did not need to prove – that he is probably the greatest player to have ever wielded a golf club.
Looking ahead, what does the future hold for Woods?
If one just looks at the last three major championships – the 2018 Open Championship, the 2018 PGA Championship and the 2019 Masters – there are only two players who have featured in the top-six of each three. Woods is T6-2-W and Francesco Molinari is W-T6-T5. That is the best and most definitive stat on who is getting ready for the majors in the most effective manner.
Woods revealed that his Masters triumph was a result of putting together a six-month plan.
“I just felt so prepared coming into this event. This year, my finishes don’t really reflect it, but I was starting to shape the golf ball the way that I know I can, which I needed for this week,” said Woods after his final-round 70 that gave him a 13-under par total of 275 and victory by one shot.
“Prep for the Masters starts six months ago, so just trying to make sure I get ready to peak for this one week, and I did, and everything came together. I kept doing all the little things correctly. Missed the ball in the correct spots time and if I was out of position, so be it, take my bogey and move on. I had no doubles. I just kept plodding along.”
Woods does not have the luxury of giving himself six months to prepare for the next three majors, which come one after the other every month in the new schedule starting this year. But then, he does not need to, just because his game and his mind are in the right place right now.
What will also help is the fact that Woods has played well and won on two of those venues.
The PGA Championship, which moves to May from this year, will be held at Bethpage Black course in Long Island where Woods’ was the champions in the 2002 US Open and tied sixth in 2009. The US Open is in June at Pebble Beach, where he won by a record 15 shots in 2000.
A 16th major will not alter the record book much, but an 82nd title on the PGA Tour will be significant. That will tie him with Sam Snead as the 'winningest' player in the history of the Tour.
The remarkable ‘Slammer’ won his 82nd at the age of 52, so a healthy Woods has a lot of time in his hand for that record. The record for which he will face more pressure is the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors. The Golden Bear’s last was the 1986 Masters when he was 46.
It’s as much a tribute to the advancements made by science (the surgery to fuse his discs is an amazing story in itself) as well as his own will power that Woods managed to win at the 83rd Masters. But from here on, every subsequent triumph will be a case of mind over matter. And one just gets the feeling that in this case, the mind is stronger than matter!
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Updated Date: Apr 17, 2019 23:45:04 IST