Tracing Tiger Woods' journey in the 11 years between his Masters triumphs

Tiger Woods’ triumph in Augusta was something way beyond numbers and quality.

Tiger Woods wears the Green Jacket and holds the Masters Trophy after his historic one-shot win in the final round of the 2019.   -  AFP

Tiger Woods wore the famous green jacket for the fifth time — 14 years after the fourth. The measurements had surely changed but none cared for the dimensions. The man who changed the dynamics of golf 22 years ago by winning his first green jacket, by a whopping 12-stroke margin, had now given the world of sport probably what would rank among the greatest comebacks in an individual sport.

This was the moment those thronging the Augusta National Golf Club had come to see. This was not the first time a popular favourite had beaten the field at the Masters. This triumph was neither a record-making effort nor the most clinical of Tiger’s five triumphs.

It was something way beyond numbers and quality.

This was a spectacular part of a man’s tale of redemption. A glorious chapter was added to a saga that could easily be titled, the “Rise and Fall and Rise of Tiger Woods.”

What made it different, from a spectator’s point of view was that he/she had a story for his/her grandchildren. It was one of a kind ‘I-was-there’ moment for those around the 18th green.

In those intervening 11 years — separating his last two Major triumphs — the real story lies buried. From conquests to controversies, from successes to surgeries, from respect to ridicule, from pedestal to prison, from revered to written off…, Tiger saw it all.

Worse, there was a time when Tiger could not perform his daily activities. Confined to bed rest after one of the four back surgeries, Tiger even used his golf club, as a walking stick, to cover the distance from his bed to the washroom.

If 14 major titles between 1997 and 2008 reflect the glory of Tiger, life thereafter shows his battle with fitness interspersed by incidents of freefall from grace.

It is well known that he won the 2008 US Open in spite of a torn ACL in his left knee. Thereafter, he dealt with a neck injury (2010), sprained MCL, Achilles (2011), Achilles injury and back surgery (2014, 2015 and 2017).

This period also saw Tiger engulfed in a widely-reported infidelity scandal that led to his divorce with Elin Nordegren, an ex-model from Sweden. The settlement was a record $750 million in 2010. Under the settlement, Nordegren agreed never to speak in public about Tiger’s alleged affairs with socialite Rachel Uchitel, reality star Jaimee Grubbs and porn-star Joslyn James and around 17 others. In turn, Tiger agreed to keep single women away from daughter Sam, three, and son Charlie, one, back then.

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Tiger Woods and with his wife Elin Nordegren in happy times. The couple separated during the horror years for Woods when nothing went right.   -  AFP

 

In 2011, Tiger split with long-time caddie Steve Williams who was on the bag for 12 years during which he won 13 majors. This was an ugly parting of ways as Williams, in public, disputed Tiger’s claim that he was dismissed in person rather than over the phone!

Another sad episode was added to Tiger’s off-the-course life when he was arrested on the suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) on May 29, 2017 in Jupiter, Florida. He was found in a semi-conscious state behind the wheel around 3 a.m. He was booked at 7.18 a.m. and released at 10.50 a.m. He had allegedly consumed a cocktail of five drugs, mixed with alcohol.

It is the background of these details that make Tiger’s latest triumph so special.

During these injury-plagued years, that left a broken home and a battered image, Tiger suffered due to his vulnerable back.

In Tiger’s words, “I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple of years ago. I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lie down. I really couldn’t do much of anything.”

In April 2017, surgeons fused two discs together in his spine and slowly, Tiger’s life was back on track.

“That gave me the chance just to have a normal life. And all of a sudden, I realised I could swing a club again. I was very fortunate to be given another chance to do something that I love to do. But more importantly, I’ve been able to participate in my kids’ lives in a way that I couldn’t for a number of years,” he said.

The road to recovery and reclaiming the lost glory began with the 2017 Hero World Challenge in Nassau, Bahamas. Remember, he had slipped to a career-low of 1199 in world rankings.

It was at Nassau, one clearly saw what it meant for Tiger to be able to swing the club again.

On the eve of his comeback event, there was one quote that stayed in my mind. When asked about how it felt to be able to wake up in the morning, go out there and have your golf, your body not in the way of your golf, Tiger’s response came from the heart: “The neatest thing for me is to be able to get up out of bed and I can grab a club and not use it as a crutch, okay? So now I’m able to take a swing. That’s so exciting, you have no idea how exciting that is, and I’m just so thankful that I’ve had this (back) procedure and I’ve gotten to this point.”

With determination writ large on his face, Tiger went on to finish a creditable ninth, in a select field of 18 elite golfers. He was happy to string together four days of golf without breaking down.

But more importantly, Tiger’s performance set his roadmap for 2018.

Notably, in 2018, Tiger was tied 11th in the Players Championship, tied sixth in The Open, runner-up in the PGA Championship and won the Tour Championship to earn his first win in five years. Tiger, who started the year ranked 647, ended at 13. Significantly, the Masters triumph raised Tiger’s ranking to 6!

As a result, in less than 18 months, Tiger turned his four-digit world ranking to single digit!

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Life is much, much better now for Tiger Woods! The driver is out again and cracking!   -  AP

 

But going further, let’s take a look at how Tiger scripted his 15th major triumph. This 81st crown of his career also kept him just one away from Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour titles.

For the record, Woods closed with a two-under 70 for a 13-under 275 to win a shot ahead of Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka.

Francesco Molinari, the British Open winner, played like the favourite for three-and-a-half rounds but lost his way on the 15th hole. When just 79 yards from the hole, Molinari shot into the middle of a pond. His tied-fifth finish clearly did not do justice to his great display during the week.

Molinari, the overnight leader by two, watched as Woods reduced his lead to one after a birdie on the third hole. But Woods bogeyed twice to leave Molinari three shots clear of the field after five holes.

Molinari was to drop a shot, his first in 50 holes, before Woods produced a beauty of a downhill-putt from 70 feet on the ninth but bogeyed the next. At this stage, Molinari was two ahead of Woods and Koepka.

Koepka faltered on the 12th and Molinari’s double-bogey saw him share the lead at 11-under with Woods and Schauffele.

Patrick Cantlay’s eagle on the 15th gave him the lead at 12-under before being joined by Schauffele.

The drama continued with Cantlay dropping shots on the 16th and 17th while Schauffele did not make the most of the 15th hole. Dustin Johnson birdied 16th and 17th to share the lead with Koepka as Woods launched his charge with a fabulous drive on the 15th.

Molinari slipped out of contention on the 15th with a double bogey before Woods moved to within three feet on the 16th and soon gained a two-shot lead. He could afford to take an extra putt on the final hole to seal the title.

Tiger tapped in, punched the air and raised both his arms in triumph.

Molinari was the first to get a word from Tiger, who understood well how it felt to be heart-broken.

On his part, Molinari was candid. “Obviously that is not the finish I wanted. There were not many out there hoping for the same finish I was hoping for, but it was fun, a good battle. Just a couple of lapses on the back nine, mentally more than anything on 12th. We picked the right club, I just didn’t hit it hard enough for some reason. Then on 15, a poor drive, a poor lay-up, a poor third shot and a poor fifth shot ...it just kept going! But I gave it my best. I am proud of a good week, and I’ll keep going ahead. Tiger was brilliant, he fought really hard. He knows how to win. To come back from where he was, it’s brilliant to see.”

It must be remembered that Tiger was denied the Open last year by Molinari; At the PGA Championship, Koepka came in Tiger’s way. Call it a coincidence that Tiger beat the two prominent names of 2018 to claim the first major of the year.

Tiger broke his silence by saying, “It’s overwhelming, because of what has transpired. Last year I was just very lucky to be playing again. I missed a couple of years of playing this great tournament. And to now be the champion ... what, is it 22 years? It’s a long time! It’s unreal. My mom was here, she was here in ’97 as well. I’m kind of at a loss for words. This is up there. It’s one of the hardest I’ve ever had to win. I was close last year in the majors. I learned from those, and was able to seal the deal today.”