Tiger Woods: Dream finale to decade-long saga plays out in Augusta – Stuff.co.nz
In all its generations, golf may never have had its stage set more dramatically than it did at the Masters when Tiger Woods capped one of the greatest of all sports comebacks by winning his first major title in 11 years.
You could not have arranged a leader board – and especially a final threesome – more perfectly. Last year, Woods had chances to win his 15th major title at the British Open and the PGA Championship.
The men who took those cherished prizes were Francesco Molinari – paired with Woods in the final round at Carnoustie – and Brooks Koepka, who won the PGA with Woods alone in second place. Koepka went into the Masters’ finale just three shots off the lead, behind Molinari, Woods and Finau.
In the end, Woods shot a final round 70 on Monday morning (NZ time) to finish the tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in the US at 13 under par, giving him victory by one shot ahead of Xander Schauffele, Koepka and Dustin Johnson, all who finished at 12 under par.
READ MORE: Tiger Woods wins the Masters
With the win, Woods moved to within three of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record 18 victories and one behind Sam Snead’s record 82 US PGA Tour wins.
Remembering their battle at Bellerive Golf Course last August, Koepka said last week, “I think I already spoiled everybody of their dreams the last time we played. It would be cool to see him win [here]. But everybody in the field would love to stop him. I mean, I enjoyed stopping history. I had a great time.
“Taking myself out of it, it would be absolutely incredible to watch,” added Koepka. “We all know he’s back. No doubt about it. Can he get it done?”
Could he get it done? Not many were willing to say those words within earshot of Woods. But it’s what everyone wondered. Could Tiger resemble his former younger and vastly healthier self on the final day of a major, on the lead and under the gun?
Just to set the table: Woods had never come from behind in the final round to win a major. In all of his 14 majors, he either led or was tied for the lead after 54 holes.
Many casual golf fans probably forgot that Woods’ 0-for-42 drought in the majors since 2008 was not simply about his back and knee injuries, his nine surgeries, his time off a decade ago to address his sex addiction, as well as his time off to deal with dependence on pain killers in early 2018 after he was stopped for a DUI.
Woods knew better than anyone how many times he was in contention since 2008 and simply didn’t produce. His physical and psychological issues contributed, but his poor golf under pressure mattered, too. That’s a big part of why a win at the age of 43 has added an extra dimension to the grand theatre of his comeback.
“After I won my 14th, I felt like I still had plenty more that I could win. But unfortunately, I just didn’t do it,” said Woods last week. “I put myself there with chances on the back nine on various Sundays and just haven’t done it.
“Hopefully, this year I put myself there again and hopefully I’ll get it done.”
He’s there. He got it done.
Perhaps Finau did the best job of putting his arms around the scope of what happened at Augusta. He’s 29 with a wife and three kids, but the first golf tournament he ever watched on TV was 22 years ago to the day Saturday – when Woods won his first Masters.
“Just watching Tiger dominate was very inspiring,” said Finau, who has only one PGA Tour win, but several near-miss seconds and so much consistency that he is ranked No. 15 in the world. “I took up the game that summer in huge part because of Tiger. He was my golfing idol.”
So, how do you beat your idol? Isn’t that a huge hurdle for many of the players? Finau thinks that may be backward.
“Tiger taught us how to compete … You shouldn’t fear anyone. We’re the aftermath of the Tiger Effect. A lot of us try to be like him to where nothing can scare us. There’s always still a Tiger Effect because it is Tiger. But it’s a different era. He’s playing against guys that he kind of bred. All of us relish a chance to compete against him.”
Perhaps the most graphic illustration of how age and injury have impacted Woods faces can be encapsulated in one detail – the times at which he and Molinari set their alarm clocks for Sunday’s early round.
Molinari, 36 and healthy, said, “Six o’clock, like an early round on Tour [on Wednesday or Thursday].” Tiger planned to arise at 3.30am so he could “start the process of getting this body ready”.
Woods did not say, “my 43-year-old, almost totally wrecked body”. But that was one of the many themes in the Augusta drama. Since his last major, we’ve seen Woods collapse to his knees in pain on the course or be unable to pick his own ball out of the hole.
He’s withdrawn in mid-round, his face contorted in pain. And this is a man with a high enough threshold of pain to win the 2008 US Open while playing 91 holes on a broken leg.
Some comebacks take a year or two. Some involve repeated injuries and surgeries to the same cursed joint or a demolished private life. Some include public humiliations or your police mug shots on the Internet. Some comebacks involve the sense that you have let down your whole sport. In golf, some have even recovered from the putting yips or the inability to consistently get a basic chip shot airborne.
For Woods, that might barely get us to the halfway point in listing everything he has overcome, a large part of it due to his own behaviour, or his insistence on rushing back prematurely from injury.
Woods, the golfer who once seemed above failure, almost above his own humanity, has spent a decade enduring more indignities and more forms of pain, plenty self-inflicted, than anyone in sports in my lifetime.
Despite the physical and psychological damage, he seems to have come out of it a better man, and certainly a more chastened one. And still one of the best golfers on earth.