By Anand Datia
The fact that nothing could beat Woods despite chipping away rigorously at him for the better part of a decade makes this Masters victory one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history
As soon as the swirling winds of Amen Corner swallowed the lofted ball of Francesco Molinari, hearts stopped for a brief moment. It was happening again. The Italian was playing with characteristic grit, holding on to a two-stroke advantage with the skin of his teeth.
Tiger Woods, 43, was crouched, waiting patiently in the shadows. The scent of opportunity was hanging thick in the air and the experienced champion was on solid ground after dealing with a pair of ugly bogeys earlier in the round.
Was it going to be another salacious Tiger hunt? The thousands of teeming patrons in Augusta were wet with anticipation. They left feeling satiated with Tiger (70-68-67-70) roaring to a one-stroke victory over Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka.
After all, barely 18 months into the past, Tiger could barely get through his day. After a fourth surgery on the back was asking for respect. The mundane was a challenge and a stroll in the park was reason for celebration.
“Even lying down hurt,” said Tiger at the time.
Yet, he plodded along. Guided by a team of professionals, drawing from the “infectious joy” on the faces of his children — 10-year-old Charlie Axel and 11-year-old Sam Alexis — and a desire to partake in their lives, Tiger started working as hard as his body allowed him to. Golf was the farthest on his mind.
At the champions dinner last year, Woods is reputed to have told Nick Faldo that he might be done playing. But he overcame that uncertainty quickly and the win at East Lake gave Tiger a new breath of life.
But a two-putt bogey on the 18th to win the Masters was perhaps the grandest vindication that Tiger was seeking ever since he drove into a fire hydrant on that fateful Thanksgiving Day in 2009.
It was the beginning of a downhill journey that took him to some dark spaces. The fact that nothing — emotional or physical — could beat Tiger to death, despite chipping away rigorously at him for the better part of a decade makes this Masters victory one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history.
Make no mistake, this was no hail-Mary effort in the dark. “The preparation to peak for this week began six months ago,” informed Tiger. The results add up to just that, careful preparation for a return to the top.
Woods was T6 at the Open after holding the lead during the final round. He was second at the PGA Championship, obliterated only by an epic final round by Brooks Koepka. Besides the victory in the TOUR Championship, he has also notched up eight top ten finishes.
It took a two under 70 to seal his fifth Masters victory and a 15th major title. This was also the first time in his storied career that the great American came from behind to claim a major title. It is 22 years from his first and epoch making 12-shot victory at Augusta.
That victory changed the face of golf. It opened new vistas, brought more fans and an enormous amount of money.
This one on Sunday could do just that. When conversation has been hijacked by a rules change fiasco and a worrisome trend of declining interest, Tiger’s victory at the Masters will shake the waters and create a new wave of interest around the world.
The world No.6 though was just happy to have the opportunity to win again with his dearest ones watching it all unfold. “To have my kids here it’s come full circle,” he said after Sunday’s final round. “My dad was here in ‘97 and now I’m the dad with two kids there.”
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)