Master­ful come­back com­plete: Woods claims 15th ma­jor

Stun­ning vic­tory at Au­gusta caps his re­turn from per­sonal is­sues, in­jury

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Doug Fer­gu­son

AU­GUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods blaz­ing to vic­tory in his Sun­day red at the Masters, a scene once so fa­mil­iar, was never more stun­ning.

It was only two years ago at Au­gusta Na­tional that Woods needed a nerve block just to hob­ble up­stairs to the Cham­pi­ons’ Din­ner, un­sure he would ever play an­other round of golf. He had a fourth back surgery with hopes of sim­ply play­ing with his two chil­dren, not chas­ing Jack Nick­laus in his­tory.

And now it’s all pieced back to­gether — his life, his back, even golf.

A fallen hero, a crip­pled star, Woods is a Masters cham­pion again.

He won his fifth green jacket, his 15th ma­jor, but never with this much raw emo­tion. The most fe­ro­cious fist pump was when he walked off the 18th green, scooped up 10-year-old son Char­lie, and em­braced his

mother and 11-year-old daugh­ter Sam.

“For them to see what it’s like to have their dad win a ma­jor cham­pi­onship, I hope that’s some­thing they will never for­get,” Woods said.

Who can ever for­get this day?

“It’s hard to re­ally feel bad about how I played be­cause I just wit­nessed his­tory,” said Xan­der Schauf­fele, one of three play­ers who fin­ished sec­ond. “It was re­ally cool com­ing down the stretch, all the his­toric holes, Tiger mak­ing the roars. I feel like I got the full Masters ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The come­back goes be­yond the two-shot deficit he erased be­fore a deliri­ous au­di­ence that watched mem­o­ries turn into re­al­ity.

It had been 14 years since he last won the Masters — no one had ever gone that long be­tween green jack­ets. He had gone nearly 11 years since his last ma­jor, the 2008 U.S. Open at Tor­rey Pines on a shat­tered left leg.

This was big­ger. Woods never missed a shot that mat­tered over the fi­nal seven holes, tak­ing the lead with a 5-iron to the fat of the green on the par-5 15th for a two-putt birdie, de­liv­er­ing the knock­out with an 8iron that rode down the ridge by the cup and set­tled 2 feet away for birdie on the par-3 16th.

He tapped in for bo­gey and a 2-un­der 70, and the cel­e­bra­tion was on.

“WOOOOOOO!!!” Woods screamed as he headed for the scor­ing room with chants of “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” He never hugged more peo­ple, ev­ery­one in his camp who stood by him through a pub­lic di­vorce, an em­bar­rass­ing mug shot from his DUI ar­rest when he took a bad mix of painkillers and the four back surg­eries, the most re­cent to fuse his lower spine.

“I had se­ri­ous doubts af­ter what tran­spired a cou­ple of years ago,” Woods said. “I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lay down. I re­ally couldn’t do much of any­thing. … To have the op­por­tu­nity to come back like this, it’s prob­a­bly one of the big­gest wins I’ve ever had for sure be­cause of it.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has played with Woods at his Florida course, had two tweets of con­grat­u­la­tions. Fen­way Park posted the news on the score­board. A come­back for the ages? It rates among the best be­cause Woods has meant so much to so many in a sport he ruled for so long. Whether he can dom­i­nate it again is still to be de­ter­mined. Woods needed some help to win this Masters. Six play­ers had a share of the lead at some point on the back nine, and there was a five-way tie at the top when the fi­nal group was still on the 15th fair­way.

“You couldn’t have had more drama than we all had out there. And now I know why I’m bald­ing,” Woods said. “This stuff is hard.”

It didn’t use to look that way when he was younger, health­ier and the most pop­u­lar sport­ing fig­ure in the world.

Woods lost his im­pec­ca­ble im­age to a sex scan­dal, one of the swiftest and most shock­ing down­falls in sport. He lost his health to back prob­lems. He went two years with­out even play­ing a ma­jor.

Now the come­back is truly com­plete. And the race is on.

“A big ‘well done’ from me to Tiger,” Nick­laus tweeted. “I am so happy for him and for the game of golf. This is just fan­tas­tic!!!”

Woods now is three short of the gold stan­dard — 18 ma­jors — set by Nick­laus.

“I think 18 is a whole lot closer than peo­ple think,” Brooks Koepka said.

Joe La­Cava, the cad­die who stayed with Woods even when he didn’t play for the bet­ter part of two years, said they have talked about the record.

“We’re on 14 and I said, ‘Let’s get to 15.’ You can’t be on 14 and think­ing about 18,” La­Cava said. “But now we can start talk­ing about 16. So we’re get­ting closer.”

It was the first time Woods won a ma­jor when trail­ing go­ing into the fi­nal round. Francesco Moli­nari, the 54hole leader, was still up two shots head­ing into the heart of Amen Cor­ner.

And that’s when all hell broke loose.

Moli­nari’s tee shot on the par-3 12th never had a chance, hit­ting the bank and tum­bling into Rae’s Creek for dou­ble bo­gey. Un­til then, Moli­nari had never trailed in a round that be­gan early in three­somes to fin­ish ahead of storms.

And then it seemed as though prac­ti­cally ev­ery­one had a chance, un­til Woods de­liv­ered the key shots at the big mo­ment, just like the old days.

Schauf­fele failed to birdie the par-5 15th and scram­bled for pars the rest of the way for a 68. Dustin John­son made three straight birdies late in the round, but he got go­ing too late and had to set­tle for a 68 and a re­turn to No. 1 in the world.

Koepka, one of four play­ers from the fi­nal two groups who hit into the wa­ter on No. 12, ral­lied with an ea­gle on the 13th, nar­rowly missed an­other ea­gle on the 15th and was the last player with a chance. His birdie putt on the 18th from just out­side 10 feet missed, and he had to set­tle for a 70.

“You want to play against the best to ever play,” Koepka said. “You want to go toe-to­toe with them. I can leave say­ing I gave it my all. He’s just good, man.”

Woods fin­ished at 13-un­der 275 and be­came, at 43, the oldest Masters cham­pion since Nick­laus won his sixth green jacket at 46 in 1986. That has stood as Au­gusta’s defin­ing mo­ment for years.

This one is sure to at least ri­val it.

“This is def­i­nitely, prob­a­bly one of the great­est come­backs I think any­body’s ever seen,” Koepka said.

Koepka and Moli­nari had both faced Tiger­ma­nia in the ma­jors and held their own, Moli­nari at Carnoustie to win the Bri­tish Open, Koepka last sum­mer at Bel­lerive to win the PGA Cham­pi­onship. Moli­nari went 49 straight holes with­out a bo­gey, a streak that ended on the sev­enth hole. It was the dou­ble bo­geys that cost him, and the Ital­ian was gra­cious as ever in de­feat.

“I think I made a few new fans to­day with those dou­ble bo­geys,” he said.

The fi­nal round started early in three­somes from both tees to fin­ish ahead of a storm sys­tem. Rain fell briefly, but it stayed away long enough for Woods to be pre­sented his green jacket on the prac­tice green, just like old times.

He looked like a new man, mak­ing new mem­o­ries.

“Now I’m able to play golf again and do it at an elite level again, which is some­thing I’m just very blessed to be able to have that op­por­tu­nity again,” Woods said.

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Im­ages

Tiger Woods couldn’t con­tain his glee af­ter end­ing a long drought in ma­jor golf tour­na­ments to win his fifth green jacket at the Masters in Au­gusta, Ga.

Doug Mills / New York Times

Tiger Woods showed more emo­tion Sun­day than he did in his pre­vi­ous ma­jor tour­na­ment vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing scream­ing with joy on the 18th hole.

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