By Andrew Tan
As the crowd on the 18th hole of Augusta National Golf Course watched intently, Tiger Woods sunk his final putt at the Masters to secure his first major victory in 11 years and his fifth green jacket, completing what pundits and fans alike are already hailing as one of the greatest sports comebacks of all time.
Woods shot a 2-under 70 in the final round of the tournament to finish 13-under on the weekend, good enough for his 15th major, now just three behind all-time leader Jack Nicklaus.
The Stanford alumnus, who played for the Cardinal for two years from 1994 to 1996 before turning pro, entered the final round two off the leader Francesco Molinari (-13) at 11-under and tied with Tony Finau (-11). The trio would play the final round together and while his competitors shrunk on the back nine, with Molinari hitting two double-bogeys and Finau playing it safe and becoming a non-factor near the end, Woods kept the pressure on and eventually seized a solo-lead on the 15th which he would not relinquish.
After Woods birdied on the 16th and hit par on the 17th, his score stood at 14-under heading into the final hole, and the only question as to whether he would lock up his 81st PGA Tour victory, a mark that stands one off the all-time record of 82 held by Sam Snead, came from the play of Brooks Koepka. Koepka was 12-under with a birdie opportunity to bring him within one stroke of Woods with Woods still having to play 18.
Koepka missed the putt and converted par, giving Woods the breathing room he would take advantage of on the last hole. Because he entered the hole with a two-stroke lead, Woods was able to overcome a less-than-ideal second drive toward the putting green and two-putt for a bogey that ended his major-drought.
The 11-year span between major wins is the longest ever for a player and underscores all that Woods has overcome to return to glory. From the scandals — his 2008 car crash, a saga of affairs and general infidelity toward his wife and DUI arrest — that originally compelled Woods to take a leave of absence from golf, to the injuries — a ruptured Achilles, an ACL tear and the countless back problems, among others — Woods was written off by everyone, ranking as low as 1,199th in the World rankings in 2017.
Previously on pace to shatter Nicklaus’ record for major victories with 14 in the first 11 years of his career, a rash of injuries and surgeries derailed Woods’ dominant run. Though he remained the top-ranked golfer for several years after his drought began in 2008, he failed to win a major over this span and had to pull out of multiple tournaments due to strain or aggravation of existing injuries. He would go four years before even winning another competition on the PGA Tour at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2012.
Even as he battled through injuries and appeared healthier after his first back surgery, the lingering effects of his compromised health were obvious as he missed the cut in quite a few major tournaments and continued to alternate between poor performances and rehabbing his surgeries. Woods hit the lowest of lows in 2017 when he was briefly jailed in Jupiter, Florida after police found him asleep behind the wheel of his car with his engine still running. He would later plead guilty to reckless driving and his mugshot would spread around the sports world like wildfire.
Finally, in 2018, Woods began to show signs of hope once again, finishing sixth at the British Open and runner-up to Koepka at the PGA Championship. Woods would then win the Tour Championship in September 2018. But until now, that major victory, which he had sought since winning the U.S. Open on a torn ACL in 2008, remained elusive. No more.
Tiger Woods is back on top of the golf world.
Contact Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at’ stanford.edu.