There are very few “where were you when it happened” sports moments throughout history. Very few moments glue viewers all across America to their TV sets and the edge of their seats for hours. Almost no moment in sports gives us a storyline that unites an entire country behind one man. Sunday afternoon was one of those moments.
The Masters is the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. There is absolutely nothing better than waking up on Masters Sunday and turning on the TV, seeing those beautiful greens and magnolias in Augusta, Georgia, with the calming Masters music and Jim Nantz’s smooth voice in the background.
This past Sunday was different though. It was even more special, more magical, and it all had to do with Tiger Woods, in his classic Sunday red, taking viewers back in time and being in contention on the biggest golf day of the year.
One of the most captivating moments of Tiger’s career was his first major win at Augusta in 1997, when he absolutely demolished the rest of the field and announced to everyone his arrival. For the next decade, Tiger dominated the sport like nobody had before. He showed up week after week determined to obliterate his competition, and this competitiveness only intensified when it came to the majors. He won a staggering 14 of them by 2008, even holding all four majors simultaneously at one point, something that has never been done before or since. Tiger was an absolute machine, and when he was at his best nobody in the sport came anywhere close. Not only was he winning, but he was changing the world of golf. It was suddenly cool and exciting to sit down and watch a golf match. Tiger did not even look like a golfer. He was lean, muscular and actually spent time in a weight room working on his body. This showed early in his career when he was driving ball more than 40 yards farther than the tour average. Nike made Tiger one of their main athletes, and fans from all around the world adored him.
Then, in 2009, with Tiger still being the greatest golfer in the world, everything collapsed. Tiger fell from the top of the mountain farther than any athlete ever has. First there was the scandal, when reports surfaced of Tiger having a slew of affairs throughout his time being married to Elin Nordegren. The couple was divorced soon after, and his image took a disastrous hit. Tiger lost huge sponsorship deals with Gatorade, Gillette, AT&T and more.
Then came the injuries. In a six-year period, Tiger tore his ACL, had a neck injury, sprained his MCL, tore his achilles and had three back surgeries. His swing was changing constantly due to his body, and he became a non-factor in the golf world for most of this decade.
On top of that, in 2017 Tiger was arrested for a DUI charge, in which it was discovered he had taken a substantial amount of painkillers. The mugshot we saw of Tiger seemed to exemplify exactly what he had become: a star like we had never seen come crashing down. That year, he ranked 1,199th in the world. I repeat, 1,199th. He had no wife, body, swing or hope that he would ever rise again. Damon Hack, a golf analyst for The Golf Channel, watched Tiger shoot an 82 in the Phoenix Open in 2015, and properly quoted the experience as “like watching Sinatra with no voice.” Everybody considered Tiger’s run to be over, maybe even Tiger himself. In 2016, he had expressed doubt that he would ever play the game again, and said that his back was in such bad shape he couldn’t even ride in a golf cart.
Everybody missed Tiger, especially the game of golf. While new stars like Jordan Speith, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and others were doing their best to lead the game into a new era, it was simply not the same without Tiger on the prowl on Sundays in his red Nike shirt. Then, in 2018, Tiger announced yet another comeback. While there was always optimism, few believed Tiger could really return to his amazing form. But then, he began posting respectable finishes, even in majors like the British Open and PGA Championship. He even won a tournament late in the year, his first win in five years. While the moment was huge, for Tiger really to be back, everybody knew he had to win his 15th major, and what better place to do that than at the Masters.
Tiger cherished this tournament more than anything else, and hopes were high going into last week. In the final group on Sunday, the closing stretch felt like the Tiger of old. Players collapsed around him as they went through the treacherous back nine, but Tiger stayed laser focused, never breaking stride and ultimately clinching the Masters title for the first time since 2005. The scene at the 18th when Tiger sunk the putt to win the tournament was breathtaking. Tiger was as animated and excited as you will ever see him, and his hug with his 10-year-old son brought tears to everybody’s eyes and strikingly resembled a young Tiger hugging his now late father after that first Masters win in 1997.
People are already calling the win one of the greatest sports moments in recent memory, and the single greatest redemption story of all time. For one afternoon, everybody was rooting for the same thing. The fanfare that Tiger has is amazing even with all of the mistakes he has made, but perhaps that is why people root harder for Tiger now than ever. He embodies the idea of a comeback, somebody who fell from grace, but who never stopped dreaming of achieving the ultimate goal, becoming the man and golfer he knew he could be. Tiger is officially back, and with that, so is golf.
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