Tiger Woods overcomes a wrecked body and battered mind to win Masters
Pointing his putter to the sky like a bloodied sword, Tiger Woods let out a massive roar at the end of the Masters.
The 18th hole of Augusta National Golf Club is a far cry from a Roman Colosseum. The patrons here only bay for good golf. But on Sunday afternoon, Woods was almost like a gladiator who just secured his freedom after an intense battle.
En route to winning his 15th major title, the 43-year-old defeated a field full of talented youngsters nearly half his age. More importantly, he slayed the self-doubts that had crept into his mind after a total of six surgeries on his back and knee.
The situation was so bad two years ago at the Masters past champions dinner, that he told players he’d never play golf again. A month later, he was arrested for suspected driving under influence, which later turned out to be an addiction to painkillers. He went to rehab.
Those were the days when Woods hobbled around and dreamt of being healthy enough to be able to play with his kids. Golf was nowhere on the radar.
Some of the greatest comeback stories in sports have been scripted when an athlete rediscovers his will to win after hitting rock bottom. Others are triumphs over debilitating physical conditions. With Woods, it was a double whammy of a wrecked body and a battered mind.
But he did return to the game last year and the comeback was complete when he won the season-ending Tour Championship in September. That was his 80th title on the PGA Tour and came against an exclusive field (just the top-30 players on the FedEx Cup). However, doubts lingered about his mental strength. Woods was in contention at the Open Championship and the PGA Championship, the last two majors of 2018, but failed to add to his majors tally.
Woods, who improved to No 6 in the world rankings, said: “It helped that I was in the mix. It (leading at the Masters) didn’t feel unfamiliar because I had the lead at the Open Championship. It would be something different if I didn’t have the lead from 2005 to now.
“I just kept saying, I’ve been here, it wasn’t that long ago. Just go ahead and just keep playing your game, keep plodding along and keep doing all the little things correctly.”
The discussions around Woods will now shift from ‘Will he ever get to 15?’ to ‘When does he match Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18?’ And going by what was on display at the Masters, reaching 18 seems like a distinct possibility.
Tiger hunts the back nine
It is often said that the Masters truly starts at the back nine on Sunday. Woods, after an errant drive on the 11th hole, rarely made any mistake. On the other hand, his rivals fell by the wayside (both Francesco Molinari and Brooks Koepka found water on the 12th hole for double bogeys), and others could not make a last crucial birdie that could have given Woods some anxious moments.
What used to be his biggest bugbear became the cornerstone of Woods’ success at the Masters. He drove the ball splendidly and was also shaping his shots as will. He led the critical Greens in Regulation stats, which is a good indication that he is hitting his irons well, too. The only suspect area in his game right now is his putting from the four-10 feet range.
It also felt like the old Tiger because he revealed he had been preparing for nearly six months with the Masters in his mind. That’s what Woods did when he dominated - obsessed on the majors.
“I just felt so prepared coming into this event. This year, my finishes don’t really reflect it, but I was starting to shape the golf ball the way that I know I can, which I needed for this week,” said Woods. “Prep for the Masters started six months ago…just trying to make sure I get ready to peak for this one week, and I did. I kept doing all the little things correctly. Missed the ball in the correct spots and if I was out of position, so be it. I took my bogey and moved on. I had no doubles this week.”
The PGA Championship is the next major scheduled to be played May 16-19 at Bethpage Black course near New York. It is a course where Woods has had prior success (won the 2002 US Open) and with his confidence level and form, he will be a favourite to make it two-in-two.