The first time Tiger Woods won the Masters, becoming the youngest to ever do it, he decimated the field and crumbled in his father’s arms. “We made it,” Earl Woods told his then-21-year-old son. Woods is now 43-going-on-60, still donning his trademark Sunday red. He scaled Augusta National this weekend for the fifth time,1 holding off a number of contenders, some of whom grew up watching him transcend the sport, on the back nine. What once seemed inevitable was anything but just a few years ago, as Woods battled surgeries and off-the-course maladies.
“Maybe the son of golf has returned,” broadcaster and former Masters champion Nick Faldo said as Woods left the 17th green.
It had been 3,954 days since Woods last won a major. Somehow, it felt even longer. Winning a major is an accomplishment reserved for a select few, but for a 10-year span beginning in the late 1990s, it was as synonymous with Woods as audacious drives and timely putts.
This didn’t come out of nowhere. Bettors knew there were signs that he was putting it all back together. But it was also known that this might have been the best remaining shot he had at summiting Augusta.
Suddenly a man who went five years without a win on tour has two in the past seven months. His turn-back-the-clock performance materialized when it mattered most. He now has three top-10s in his past four majors.
Just as he has previously, Woods bashed the par-5s (-8), going three-under on them over the final round. He approached the 15th hole in a three-way tie with Xander Schauffele and Francesco Molinari, detonated his tee shot and immediately began walking toward the hole as it soared through the sky. He two-putted his way to a birdie and an outright lead and never looked back.
The last time Woods won the Masters, his chip-in on the No. 16 green provided the signature highlight of his career. Playing the same hole 14 years later, Woods added to his legend. He struck an 8-iron to the center of the green, spinning it back down the hill where it stopped 4 feet from the pin. As pandemonium played around Woods at the tee box, a replay showed him at-ease cooing “come on” to his ball at it inched closer to history.
That wasn’t the only time precision paid off for Woods on par-3s, which he played four-under for the tournament, the best four-round score among his five wins. When Molinari and Tony Finau found the water on No. 12, it was Woods who found the green and two-putted his way to par.
Nine players entered the weekend within a shot of the lead, the most in Masters history. That historically congested scoreboard continued Sunday, as each hole seemed to carry implications for the top 15 in the standings. The win marked the first time Woods came from behind in the final round to win a major.
Most unbelievable was the winding path Woods had to take just to get back to Butler Cabin. His career first began to go off the rails with a knee injury that cost him half of the 2008 season, and although he played well in 2009 (leading the PGA Tour in money won), he also blew a Sunday major lead for the first time ever when Y.E. Yang overtook him at the PGA Championship.
Then came The Accident, which brought to light an ongoing pattern of behavior that tore apart Woods’s personal life. Even that may not have been the low point, however. Woods only dropped to 52nd in the World during his post-scandal struggles — and eventually fought back to reclaim the No. 1 ranking in 2013, winning five events and once again taking the money title. But in the years that followed, Woods would play so poorly and infrequently that he dropped to 674th in the world in early 2017.
Such a pronounced valley in performance (particularly relative to the rest of his career) led plenty of pundits to write off Woods’s chances of ever winning another major. Those takes look scorching hot in retrospect, but it’s difficult to find an established veteran player whose ranking dropped outside the top 600 and who managed to claw back to win a major. Then again, Woods is one of the greatest pure talents in golf history — if anyone was going to rewrite that record book and make such an astonishing comeback, it would be him.
Age comes for everyone, of course. And the aging curve for golfers heads south well before 45, which will be here for Woods in no time. But even as younger players increasingly dominate the sport, there’s still room for perhaps the greatest golfer of all time to enhance his legacy.
It was Woods’s first Masters victory in 14 years, snapping Gary Player’s all-time record of 13 years between wins, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The win is Woods’s 81st on the PGA Tour, one shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record. It’s also his 15th major championship, three shy of Jack Nicklaus’s record. When asked about Woods’s rekindled pursuit of history on Sunday, Nicklaus said, “he’s got me shaking in my boots.”
Golf’s prodigal son has officially returned, and what happens next is not known. But no one will again underestimate what Tiger Woods is capable of on a golf course.