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Tiger Woods' 2019 Masters win is a sporting comeback unlike any other; how he prevailed where others couldn't

Tiger is back and he is roaring!

Last week, in what golf aficionados called an incredible comeback, Eldrick Tont Woods, better known as ‘Tiger’ Woods, returned to the Augusta National Golf Club to win the 2019 Masters after a gap of 14 years. Winning his fifth green jacket, which he had won earlier in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005, the Masters also marked his 15th major championship win and surprisingly his first since the US Open in 2008.

The genius of the fairway, now a resident of Jupiter Island in Florida, had trailed Italian golfer, Francesco Molinari by three strokes after six holes at the recent Masters. The latter however erred on the 12th and 15th. Woods, on the other hand, displaying nerves of steel, birdied three of the final six holes to hold off the challenge from Molinari and others who made late charges on the back nine, to win the title.

Just how much the win meant to him could be gauged from his tiger-like roar after the final green had been captured and the emotional moments that he spent with his kids, his mother and his girlfriend as he walked off the links. There is no count of how many Tiger Woods fans wept that evening.

Michael Jordan, the American basketball legend who had switched to Major League Baseball after winning three NBA titles and had returned to the basketball court to win three more, was said to be the master of all returns before Woods’ latest win. He is said to have told his friend, Woods, that he couldn’t make a comeback after he was ranked close to 900 for a time in 2017. After last week’s Masters triumph, Jordan is believed to have told a sports reporter that Woods was the GOAT, not he.

 Tiger Woods 2019 Masters win is a sporting comeback unlike any other; how he prevailed where others couldnt

Tiger Woods returned to the Augusta National Golf Club to win the 2019 Masters after a gap of 14 years. Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Following Woods’ implausible return to the top, in the Masters, sports commentators went into a tizzy, trying to find other instances of similar sporting comebacks. Long ago, in 1983, Bjorn Borg, the tennis legend had walked off the courts complaining of burnout. He had won 11 Grand Slam singles titles till then, including five consecutive crowns at Wimbledon. After a broken marriage, failed businesses and investments that had bombed, he tried to make a comeback in the early 1990s and failed miserably. Lew Hoad, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles — who was stabbed on court — too couldn’t get used to not being seeded and therefore made early exists in their attempted comebacks.

Muhammad Ali, who was stripped of his titles after he refused to be drafted to fight in Vietnam in the 1960s, came back six years later to beat George Foreman and regain the world heavyweight boxing title. That was a memorable return to the top. Long after he retired, Pele offered to play for a struggling Brazilian side in the World Cup. Mercifully, his offer wasn’t accepted.

Sporting history is replete with stories of superstars of one era having tried to relive their days of glory in another era. But Woods’ return to win the Masters at the Augusta Golf Club is perhaps what fairytales are made of; especially because of what he has had to endure — most of it of his own making — in the last few years.

Tiger, born on December 30, 1975 in Cypress, California was a golf prodigy. His father, Earl was a Vietnam War veteran and had special access to the local golf club. It is said that the Woods boy started playing the game when he was only two years old. Not surprisingly, he was the junior world champion six times between 1988 and 1991. He would stutter when young and had the habit of talking to his pet dog, till the latter fell asleep, because others didn’t have the patience.

He joined Stanford University on a scholarship but had to leave midway to turn pro. Woods won his first Masters in 1997 and a couple of months later became world number one. After he underwent eye surgery in 1999, he won six consecutive events in the new millennium, including the US Open. After a slump in form during 2003-04, he won six PGA tour events in 2005.

In 2006, Tiger’s father passed away. That hit him hard, for Woods (Sr)  was his friend, guide and philosopher. His mother, Kultida, a Thai, is a disciplinarian. “I’m still deathly afraid of my mom. She’s very tough and there is zero negotiation,” says Tiger. Despite taking some time off to grieve his father’s death, he ended the year winning six consecutive events.

In 2008, despite a knee operation, he won the US Open again. His opponents said that Tiger had won that competition on one leg. In fact, his knee problems had begun in 1994 when he had a surgery to remove two benign tumours. Eight years later, he had his knee operated upon again to remove fluid and benign cysts. He ruptured an ACL in 2007 and then came the cartilage damage, despite which he won the US Open. At the end of that year, he had a strained Achilles tendon.

Woods’ back problems began in 2010 with a bulged disc. In one event, after teeing off, he is said to have collapsed in pain. Thereon, back spasms troubled him for nearly three seasons and he finally had to undergo back surgery in 2014. By 2017, he had had four operations to correct his back trouble which was essentially caused by a pinched nerve and sciatica like pain.

The knee, Achilles heel and back problems notwithstanding, his extramarital affairs and breakup with Elin Nordegren perhaps affected his life and his game more than anything else from 2009 onwards. Following a car collision in which he received facial injuries, the National Enquirer published a story in which it was revealed that Woods was dating a New York City night club manager. The skeletons were now tumbling out of the cupboard and at least a dozen more affairs came out into the open. “I was wrong, I was foolish,” said Woods in a media interview, even as he lost endorsements worth billions of dollars. Woods and Elin Nordegren agreed to a divorce in August 2010 after seven years of marriage.

In June 2017, Woods was arrested near his home for driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving and received a year of probation, $250 in fines and 50 hours of community service. That perhaps prompted the turnaround; it was then or never. Woods knew he was sliding down a slope and if he didn’t take hold of his life, there would be no turning back.

In the run up to the Masters of 2019, Woods showed improved form through 2018 and the will to return to winning ways. Then came the Masters win, after 11 years of drought. The wait was finally over. Serena Williams, the tennis legend tweeted after the win, “Literally in tears watching. This is greatness like no other. Knowing all you have been through physically to come back and do what you did today? Wow. Congrats a million times! I am so inspired. Thank you, buddy.”

The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former cricketer, coach and administrator, he is now a mental toughness trainer.

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Updated Date: Apr 20, 2019 19:53:18 IST