Damien Cox: Tiger captures fifth Masters title, and it feels just like old times
|Toronto Star 14 Apr 2019 at 17:44|
You can doubt it, sure. That’s sports. But count it out like so many counted out Tiger Woods? You’re just asking to be proven wrong.
Tiger Woods roars after the final putt dropped in Sunday’s final round of the Masters, where he ended an 11-year drought in golf’s majors with his fifth Augusta victory. (Andrew Redington / GETTY IMAGES)
And now Tiger is truly back, all the way back. He captured his fifth green jacket at the 83rd edition of The Masters on Sunday, completing one of the most astonishing comebacks in the history of sports, overcoming four back surgeries, divorce, an exodus of sponsors, a DUI and public humiliation to win the most coveted title in golf.
Just two years ago, remember, he feared he would never play again. Not win again. Play at all.
“I was really struggling,” he recalled on Sunday. “(To win) is overwhelming because of what has transpired. Last year, I was just lucky to be playing again. Now, it’s unreal for me to experience this. I couldn’t be more happy, more excited. I’m at a loss for words.”
Fourteen years after his last victory at Augusta National, and 11 years since his last win at one of golf’s majors, Woods emerged from a mob of elite golfers packed as tightly as the King St. streetcar at rush hour to win by one shot and become the oldest champion at Augusta in three decades.
“It fits,” he quipped, beaming as last year’s champion Patrick Reed placed the famed green jacket on his shoulders inside historic Butler Cabin.
For four days in Georgia, he hovered, staying close to the leaders, hoping that when it came down to crunch time momentum would shift his way. Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and brainy Bryson DeChambeau led after the first day, then Francesco Molinari of Italy, last year’s British Open winner, jumped into the mix.
Woods started to make his move on Friday’s back nine, and left the 18th green with a huge smile on his face. He knew he was in it, just one shot off the pace.
Gorgeous, humid weather on Saturday saw a record three rounds of 64, and still Woods hung around with younger, talented competitors. Terrible weather lurked on the final day, forcing organizers to get the players out early, making Masters Sunday feel more like Breakfast at Wimbledon.
It seemed the battle would be with Molinari, a smaller, amiable man with an expression like a driver trying to negotiate bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“This is going to be an interesting chess match to see who blinks first,” said commentator Peter Kostis.
Woods actually stumbled early, and Molinari established a three-shot lead, stretching his bogey-free streak to 49 holes at one point. Birdies were elusive. Molinari’s steady approach appeared as if it would be enough.
Until historic Rae’s Creek entered the conversation.
On the 12th hole, in a stunning episode played out over about 20 minutes, four of the world’s top golfers — Koepka, Molinari, Ian Poulter and Tony Finau — all plunked their tee shots into the water hazard on the 158-yard, par-3 hole. All took double bogeys.
It wasn’t quite as shocking as Tom Weiskopf putting five into the creek in 1980. It was more like Jordan Spieth’s chunk en route to a seven in 2016. Unthinkable. How could the best in the world screw up so badly?
Molinari crumbled after that. Koepka recovered immediately with an eagle on the next hole, but he ultimately ran out of runway. Dustin Johnson pushed, but it was too little too late.
Once again it was 2005, with massive, buzzing galleries following Woods, forcing other golfers to stop and wait to play. Blasts of human-generated noise reverberated around the golf course as fans sensed history in the making.
“You could definitely tell the difference, a roar for me or a roar for Tiger,” said Johnson, the world’s No. 2-ranked player.
A two-shot lead walking up the 18th created a memorable scene, with Woods marching resolutely up the fairway to the green, tipping the brim of his cap as spectators standing 30 deep applauded.
“The energy out there was brilliant,” said Molinari.
Woods only needed a bogey to win, and that’s what he got. As his white golf ball disappeared into the hole, he pumped his fist once. Was that going to be it? A restrained, businesslike response?
No. A second later, Woods flung both fists into the air and released a primal scream. Of victory. Of resistance to the forces of nature and time. Of vindication.
He hugged his caddy, Joe LaCava. “We did it!” he yelled. Moments later, his son Charlie rushed into his arms. Then his mother, then his daughter Sam. “Tiger, Tiger Tiger!” chanted the crowd.
The Return of Tiger included several false starts, legions of doubters and few believers that he could win any PGA tournament again, let alone one of golf’s big ones. But when he contended twice in majors last year, then won again at the year-end Tour Championship down the road at East Lake in Atlanta, what happened on Sunday began to seem possible. Actually, it began to feel likely.
There were more smiles and fewer snarls than there had been in Woods’ heyday, and you sensed that he had learned a lot during his years in the wilderness, both about himself and the game he loved and once dominated.
On Sunday, he seemed more savvy than explosive. He didn’t hit the ball as far, understanding he just needed to stay in play and let others succumb to the pressure and expectations. A birdie on the 15th hole, the 69th of the competition, catapulted Woods to the top of the leaderboard alone for the first time, and for good.
“I was as patient as I’ve been in a number of years. Kept control of my emotions, my shots, my shot placement,” he said. “I was just trying to plod my way around the golf course all day.
“Then, all of a sudden, I had the lead.”
Only Jack Nicklaus has more green jackets now, with six. It was Tiger’s 15th major victory, which leaves him three short of the all-time record held by Nicklaus. Might he now be able to take a run at that record, an opportunity that seemed gone for good?