There can be no more doubting his return to prominence in the sport of golf.
The former No. 1 had dropped all the way down to 1,199th in the world.
His troubles began in 2009 when he was caught in an infidelity scandal and later divorced his wife, Elin Nordegren, in 2010.
Woods was inconsistent in the years to follow — although he did have a solid year in 2013, winning five times. He returned to his perch as the No. 1 player in the world.
However, the stint at the top wouldn’t last very long; he suffered from multiple back and leg injuries that were so severe, they threatened his ability to walk.
During a 10-year stretch, he had four major knee surgeries and two major back surgeries. The last operation — in 2017 — required a spinal fusion operation which led him to abuse prescription drugs. Woods was arrested for driving under the influence of five different drugs, and his mugshot was plastered worldwide.
Tiger’s arrest was a low point in his life. His mugshot was the image of a broken man. He had fallen so far.
His good friend — and former PGA Tour winner — Notah Begay relayed an account of Tiger during this time period. He told the Golf Channel:
“We had to go pick his kids up at school, and he asked me to drive him. He was not able to get out of his chair. He was unable to walk to the car under his own power. He put his arm around me and I sort of kind of helped shuffle him off into the car. He was unable to sit upright, had to recline the seat back. It was a telling day for me, because the one person who I had kind of looked up to for most of my life — as a friend and as a competitor — was unable to get up out of his chair.”
Tiger feared he may never play again. Many fans and sports commentators wrote him off. They proclaimed that he would never win again — much less win a major championship.
Woods returned to the tour during the 2018 season. His game improved slowly from week to week. Eventually, he was in contending in tournaments again, and slowly it seemed the unthinkable was possible — Tiger might actually win again.
He finished runner-up in Tampa at the Valspar Championship in March of 2018. Then, during the summer, he came close to winning two major championships: the Open Championship and PGA Championship. He had a lead on the back nine at the Open Championship and finished runner-up at the PGA Championship — after a remarkable final round of 64.
Tiger saved his best for last. He took the lead after the first round of the final tournament of the year, the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
He never looked back. He walked up the 18th, surrounded by thousands of his fans shouting his name. There has rarely been a moment in golf like it. Tiger tapped in for his first win in five years, and the 80th of his career.
His eyes then turned toward April and the Masters. He told a crowd at a clinic after the season that he was looking forward to “that tournament in April.”
In classic Tiger fashion, he played a solid round on Thursday, followed by two low rounds on Friday and Saturday.
He came into Sunday two shots behind Italian golfer Francesco Molinari. The leaderboard was crowded. Multiple players had a chance. However, it was Tiger’s day.
He took the lead on the 15th hole after birdieing the par-5. Then he almost had a hole-in-one on the par-3 16th hole. He had a two-shot lead with two holes to play. All he needed was two putts to win. He tapped in for the win and the comeback was complete!
There has never been a greater comeback story in the history of American sports. Muhammad Ali and Ben Hogan come to mind, but neither one fought personal demons and physical injuries over such a long period of time.
It is true that some of Tiger’s troubles were of his own making. He cheated on his wife and destroyed a marriage. He drove under the influence of drugs (also bad).
However, he has changed as a golfer and as a man. You could see it in the way he hugged his children as he walked off the 18th hole. You could see the respect of his fellow competitors as they waited near the clubhouse to congratulate him.
Tiger was not as respected by his peers 10 years ago. He has treated them with more respect, and they have returned the favor.
Tiger Woods’ story is a story of redemption. He has been in the public eye since he was a child. He appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at the age of three. He was a young phenom who then lived up to the hype — and then some.
He fell from grace, and then fought back to return to the height of the game. Americans love a good comeback story. They will likely never get one as good as this one — as long as they live.