The last time Tiger Woods had won a Major, George W. Bush was the U.S. president. This year’s low amateur at the Masters, Viktor Hovland, was 10 years old at the time. All of which is to say that it’s been nearly a decade and a half since Woods triumphed on golf’s biggest stage.
But now Tiger is back, having carded a 13 under to win the 2019 Masters at the age of 43, completing a career comeback which at times seemed impossible.
Woods went into the last day of the tournament trailing reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari by two strokes, and history seemed against Woods, who had never won a Major after trailing through three rounds. Yet Woods battled through a tumultuous final round in which the lead changed multiple times, eventually emerging with a two stroke lead heading into the final two holes.
Runner-up Brooks Koepka had a chance to make birdie on 18 to cut Woods’ lead to a single stroke with a hole to play. But Koepka’s putt missed left, and Woods needed only a bogey on his final par 4 18th hole to win the tournament. Woods played it safe, reaching the green in three and narrowly missing his initial putt. But a simple tap-in gave him the bogey he needed, securing a Master’s championship that as recently as two years ago would have seemed absurd.
Woods became the oldest player to win the Masters since Jack Nicklaus won it at the age of 46 in 1986. Tiger had previously won the Masters most recently in 2005, and the 14 year gap between wins is the largest margin in Masters history.
With his mother, daughter and son watching, Woods pumped his fists and roared in triumph after sinking the putt to win the tournament and elevate himself to the pinnacle of professional golf once again. But this 15th Major win must have felt very different to Woods than the 14 that preceded it.
From the Top to the Bottom and Back Again
Since bursting onto the scene in 1997 after winning the Masters by an astonishing 12 strokes as a 21 year old, Woods had utterly dominated professional golf for the next decade. With 14 Major wins by the age of 33, Woods seemed a lock to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career Major wins.
But by 2008, injuries and a series of personal scandals began to take their toll on Woods. Gradually, the aura of mystique and inevitability that humbled an entire generation of golfers was gone. Instead, the last ten years have been marked by Tiger’s frequent lengthy absences from pro golf as he rehabbed persistent back injuries and attempted to regain his wayward stroke.
In 2017, Woods reached something of a low point, with an arrest for DUI marring his personal life, while in private he confided to close acquaintances that he believed he might have played his last round of golf.
Yet Woods found new life after a fourth back surgery in 2017, and slowly but surely started to round into form. In the latter half of the 2018 season, Woods managed to post a 6th place finish at the US Open and a runner-up at the PGA Championship, his most competitive Major showings in years. He then managed to win a tournament in September, further tantalizing long-time fans with the thought that he might be back to some semblance of his old self.
At this year’s Masters, Woods proved that he was indeed back, and on golf’s biggest stage, no less. As he hugged his son as the cheers cascaded down, it brought to mind the scene at the Masters in 1997 when a 21 year old Woods hugged his own father.
The cycle had come full circle. Tiger Woods had once again reached the top.