Energy of Tiger’s return to Major league will fuel golfing year
The comeback of comebacks will continue at Bethpage, Pebble Beach and Portrush
Tiger Woods walks through the crowd on the 18th hole after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times
The history-maker has a hard act to follow, even for him. But, don’t you know, he’ll find a way; for Tiger Woods’s comeback of comebacks, in a body held together only by the wondrous work of surgeons on knee and spine, also had much to do with the part of him that remains hidden: his inner-self, that mental capacity to believe that anything is possible . . . even the impossible!
Woods’s journey from the greatest player of his generation to being an object of pity – even shame – and, now, back to winning Major championships again would hardly be out of place in a Hollywood movie script. Except, he has done it for real and his latest win, in claiming a fifth Masters title and a 15th Major championship, once again puts his chase of Jack Nicklaus’s all-time record of 18 Majors on the agenda.
To come from a point, after spinal surgery which was seen as a last-ditch medical intervention to get him playing again, where he could not walk unaided, never mind hit golf balls, to a situation where he is beating all-comers is incredible. It might even stand comparison with Ben Hogan’s recovery from a car crash in which he sustained life-threatening injuries to also return to winning Majors.
In Woods’s case, his life lived out in full view, the recovery process has been painful and slow and, for all of that, remarkable. The work performed by surgeons – four knee operations, four back surgeries – has been acknowledged fully by Woods but, also, he is fortunate that his chosen sport is one which is not exclusive to young tyros and that age isn’t a barrier.
“Luckily I had the procedure on my back, which gave me a chance at having a normal life. All of a sudden, I realised I could actually swing a golf club again. I felt if I could somehow piece this together that I still had the hands to do it. The body’s not the same as it was a long time ago but I still have good hands,” he said.
Woods had reached 14 Majors in his stockpile of wins by the age of 32. He had to wait 11 years to add to the collection.
At 43 years of age, Woods has returned to winning ways; his first Major title since the US Open of 2008, his first Masters since 2005. Those barren years in between only underscore his past brilliance – which included the so-called Tiger Slam, the first player to hold all four Majors at the same time – but, now, also highlight a comeback that hints at further glory ahead.
These Major weeks are what it is all about for Woods, and the condensed nature of scheduling this year – all four in successive months from April to July – has meant a tinkering of his playing itinerary to only play tournaments that suit his grand design.
Rickie Fowler was one of the first to see light at the end of the tunnel for Woods. In the autumn of 2017, Fowler spent some time in Woods’s company when he was only starting to hit full shots again. “I saw the possibility of what he was doing at home, how he was feeling, how he was swinging,” said Fowler.
Woods himself felt it too at that time, and got reaffirmation from his play last season which saw him contend in the British Open at Carnoustie and again at the US PGA at Bellerive. A win would eventually come at the Tour Championship at East Lake which, he claimed, was “a big step for me, confirming that I could win against the best players”.
Where to now? That chase of Nicklaus’s all-time record is back on the cards, but Woods’s philosophy will be to take it one championship at a time. “Jack played in what, I don’t know, 150 Majors and only did it 18 times. You put it in perspective like that, it is not easy to do. It’s hard to have mind, body and soul come together at the same time,” said Woods.
For Woods – his eyes on Bethpage, Pebble Beach and Portrush – the route ahead will again be carefully mapped, but also a resilience based on what he has overcome to return to this point of his career: “You never give up, that’s a given. Giving up is never in the equation. Pushing and being competitive has got me into this position, but it is also what got me out of it . . . we wake up every morning and there’s always challenges in front of us, and [you] keep fighting and keeping getting through.”
Woods, more than anyone around, knows how to prepare for the Majors. He revealed after his latest green jacket success that he’d started preparatory work for Augusta all of six months ago. The preparation timeframe for the other three this year will be shorter, but not less diligent.
As Koepka said, “Tiger’s back!”
And the electricity which hung in the air at Augusta National had nothing to do the forecast thunderstorms but all to do with Woods. That energy is set to fuel the remainder of the golfing season.