Tiger Woods wriggled happily in his fifth green jacket. ‘Ah, it fits,’ he sighed contentedly. He was home, at last. Cosy in the Butler Cabin, his family close at hand. He watched film of his first Masters win, hugging his father at the back of the 18th, juxtaposed with the embrace of his son, Charlie, moments earlier.
But he didn’t cry for the cameras. He didn’t lose the moment through a mist of salty tears. He had been through too much on this journey. He was all cried out, long ago. And it had all been worth it.
It was approximately 1.50pm local time on Sunday when play around Augusta was momentarily suspended. Not for the threatened weather front that had played havoc with the final day schedule, but because a different kind of thunderstorm was blowing through. On the 16th tee, Woods had unlocked a portal to the past. His eight-iron to the green had pitched perfectly and was rolling, rolling, rolling towards the hole. America screamed its encouragement and raucous approval.
Tigers Woods smiled as 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed (left) gave him the green jacket
‘Ah, it fits,’ said a beaming Woods after putting on the famous jacket at Augusta on Sunday
Woods had won his first Masters title way back in 1997, when Nick Faldo gave him the jacket
Woods began ball-whispering, too, his murmured implorations encouraging each rotation as the slope did its thing. The object of all this futility came to rest some three feet from the hole, but it would be quite some time before those in proximity could get on with their game.
The cheers echoed and echoed, the chants, too. Augusta does not shed its decorum like this often, but then this is arguably the greatest comeback in American sporting history.
Short of rolling a stone from the entrance to his tomb it is hard to imagine Woods could have done more to make this miracle happen.
At the champions dinner here two years ago, it took a cocktail of drugs that could stun an elephant just to get him to the table.
Once there, he could barely sit for long enough to eat. He whispered to his dining companions that he was done. Not
with the meal, but with golf. And not just with championship golf, either. Any golf. His physical state was such, there was no form of the game that was not out to hurt him. He wouldn’t even be able to play for fun, with friends, with his kids once they had grown. It was a pitiful end.
Yet Tiger Woods, medical miracle, is just one strand of this remarkable story. What the world witnessed on Sunday was about more than just the physical, the triumph of science and intellectual imagination that has rebuilt a broken man. At Augusta, Woods reconnected with his grand legacy, with what he was and what he could yet be. He even broke new ground, coming from behind on the last day to win a major for the first time in his career.
And as Ian Poulter pointed out on Friday, statistically, a 43-year-old — Woods is the same age as the Englishman — has a three per cent chance of winning the Masters.
So Woods overcame more than just gruelling personal trauma. He beat age, he beat a field of younger men who had grown used to talking of him in the past tense and he beat pressure – the pressure of competition, and the pressure he has placed upon himself to get back to here and to win again, at a time in his life when his children are old enough to understand.
They were here on Sunday, at the side of the 18th green, as he brought it home. Charlie walked beside him as he strode to sign for his card, proud as punch.
They were the ones he made a bee-line for after the winning putt had dropped. Mum, daughter, son. He hugged them close, whooping, screaming, punching the air, emotions that those who have known him longest said they had not seen even amid his greatest victories.
American Woods won the Masters for a fifth time but it was just his first major win since 2008
Woods was a very popular winner and the majority of fans in the crown looked pleased for him
It is harder now. Not just because of age, or the stringent fitness regime that gets him on the course each day — bringing the tee times forward to beat the approaching storms, necessitated a 3am start, he said — but because the fields are so deep with talent.
Woods described the leaderboard as a who’s who and within two shots of the lead at the end were the winners of four US Opens, two PGA Championships and an Open.
No Masters winners, though. Woods had them there.
After Francesco Molinari, in particular, made a series of crucial mistakes, Woods’ local knowledge and innate course management steered him home.
That and genius because, if his body holds up, this is what is revealed. A genius of the golf course. The greatest player of his era — an era that now spans 22 years. On the par-four ninth, Woods made an uncharacteristic mistake with his second shot, finding the wrong part of the green.
So wrong, in fact, that he cracked an ironic smile at his foolishness. He was putting downhill, from around 80 feet, over two plateaus with a side slope. Nobody gave Woods a chance but when the ball came to rest, it was a tap-in from the hole.
Tiger’s mum Kultida (left), girlfriend Erica Herman (right) and two children were at Augusta
Woods hugged his mother as the eyes of the world gazed at him via countless cameras
‘Nice putt,’ said Molinari, which, as understatements go, would be a bit like telling the members of Augusta National that the old place scrubs up well.
Maybe, by then, Molinari sensed what he was up against. The Tiger of old, the Tiger they all thought had been consigned to history when they spoke so glibly of wishing they could take him on again.
Those in closest proximity to Woods on Sunday did not seem to be greatly enjoying the re-engagement.
In that way, the weather helped him. Faced with afternoon thunder-storms, the tee-off times were brought forward to early morning and instead of pairs, groups went out in threes. Final pairing Molinari and Tony Finau were therefore joined by Woods in a trio. This allowed Woods to exert pressure directly. By the end, none of the other golfers in the top four places were in Woods’ group.
Finau and Molinari had been well and truly Tigered.
Woods seemed a little confused, even in victory, saying the biggest challenge was looking at the leaderboard and trying to work out what was going on elsewhere on the course, while staying present and focused.
‘It was an amazing buzz, though,’ he said. ‘I kinda liked it.’
And if those words do not send the smallest shiver down the healthy spines of his competitors, they are not paying attention. Woods may emote more than he used to but everything else about his play suggested, reacquainted with his genius, nothing else had changed. As they say in the south, this wasn’t his first rodeo. And it’s unlikely to be his last.
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