Woods cap­tures fifth ti­tle at Au­gusta with mag­i­cal come­back

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Karen Crouse

AU­GUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods’ come­back from per­sonal and pro­fes­sional ad­ver­sity is com­plete: He cap­tured his fifth Masters ti­tle and his 15th ma­jor tour­na­ment Sun­day, snap­ping a cham­pi­onship drought of nearly 11 years.

It was a mon­u­men­tal tri­umph for Woods, a mag­i­cal, come-frombe­hind win for a player who had not won a ma­jor cham­pi­onship since his per­sonal life be­gan to un­ravel on Thanks­giv­ing night in 2009, when a mar­i­tal dis­pute led to a car ac­ci­dent and a suc­ces­sion of lurid tabloid head­lines. On the golf course, he had a se­ries of back and leg in­juries that led to an ad­dic­tion to painkillers and cul­mi­nated in pain so sear­ing that, be­fore surgery in 2017, he had ques­tioned whether he could play pro­fes­sion­ally again.

Woods, who at 43 be­came the sec­ond-oldest win­ner of the Masters at Au­gusta Na­tional, af­ter the then 46-year-old Jack Nick­laus in 1986, last achieved ma­jor suc­cess in one of golf’s four ma­jor tour­na­ments at the 2008 U.S. Open.

“It’s over­whelm­ing just be­cause of what has tran­spired,” Woods said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view af­ter it was over. “To now be the cham­pion — 22 years be­tween wins is a long time — it’s un­real for me to ex­pe­ri­ence this. It was one of the hard­est I’ve ever had to win just be­cause of what’s tran­spired the last cou­ple years.”

He had come close on some Sun­days to win­ning his 15th ma­jor over the years but could not get it done. Yet af­ter the surgery in 2017, a spinal-fu­sion pro­ce­dure he called a “last re­sort,” he be­gan a new lease on his ca­reer.

His pur­suit of Nick­laus’ record 18 ma­jor cham­pi­onships, which

seemed a fore­gone con­clu­sion when he sprinted to 14 ma­jor ti­tles in his first 11 years as a pro­fes­sional, is now of­fi­cially back on.

Last year, Woods made 18 PGA Tour starts, his most since 2012, and posted his first vic­tory since 2013, at the Tour Cham­pi­onship. He also con­tended in the last two ma­jors of the year, the Bri­tish Open and the PGA Cham­pi­onship, on the way to top-6 show­ings at each tour­na­ment. Those re­sults, he said, boosted his be­lief that he could con­tend this week at Au­gusta Na­tional, the site of his first ma­jor tri­umph, by 12 strokes, in 1997.

Woods, in his 22nd Masters ap­pear­ance, closed with a fi­nal round of 70 and fin­ished 13 un­der par at 275, one stroke bet­ter than Dustin John­son, Brooks Koepka and Xan­der Schauf­fele. He took the lead with just three holes to play af­ter a birdie putt on the par-5 15th hole and held on from there. With thun­der­storms fore­cast for the late af­ter­noon, or­ga­niz­ers of the Masters moved up the start times by five hours. Play­ers were also placed into groups of three rather than the tra­di­tional two, in hopes of speed­ing up play.

But by the time the tour­na­ment lead­ers went into the sec­ond half of their rounds Sun­day, the wind picked up and it briefly be­gan to rain.

Both of the play­ers with whom Woods was grouped in the fi­nal three­some, Francesco Moli­nari, 36, and Tony Finau, 29, de­scribed Woods as their child­hood idol. Both even­tu­ally suc­cumbed to the pres­sure of the fi­nal round, but Woods did not.

“I was just try­ing to plod my way along the golf course all day,” Woods said in the tele­vised in­ter­view. “All of a sud­den I had a lead. Com­ing up to 18 it was just try­ing to make a 5. When I tapped the putt in — I don’t know what I did, I know I screamed.”

Now, af­ter more than a decade of be­ing stuck in place, Woods sud­denly seems to have a full head of steam mov­ing for­ward. The next two ma­jors, the PGA Cham­pi­onship at Beth­page Black on Long Is­land in New York in May and the U.S. Open at Peb­ble Beach in Cal­i­for­nia in June, are at cour­ses where Woods has won be­fore. He seems primed to do so again.

Those events seem far-off though. The glow from Sun­day will surely last for months, and will be dis­cussed for years as one of the piv­otal mo­ments in the ca­reer of an ath­lete who has been more than a golfer since he burst on the scene in 1996.

Woods fa­mously barged into the sports world that year with his “Hello World” Nike com­mer­cial and a fa­ther, Earl Woods, who promised his son’s ac­com­plish­ments would change ev­ery­thing. The en­su­ing 23 years have been the ul­ti­mate roller coaster.

For the first decade of his ca­reer, Woods soaked up the praise and adu­la­tion that came with tal­ent, suc­cess and fame. He strug­gled emo­tion­ally for the first time af­ter the death of his fa­ther in 2006. Then the in­juries be­gan, and then his life started to un­ravel with the in­fa­mous 2009 car ac­ci­dent.

In 2017, af­ter hav­ing undergone mul­ti­ple surg­eries on his back, he hit rock bot­tom. He was charged with driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence when he was found in a painkiller haze at the wheel of his car with the mo­tor run­ning. He later pleaded guilty to reck­less driv­ing.

So it seemed fit­ting that nearly a decade af­ter the 2009 ac­ci­dent, the first per­son he em­braced when he came off the golf course Sun­day was his son, Char­lie, be­fore he moved to his mother, Kul­tida, and his daugh­ter, Sam, who is 11.

“To have my kids here it’s come full cir­cle,” he said. “My dad was here in ’97 and now I’m the dad with two kids there.”

Woods said this tour­na­ment was one of the hard­est he has ever had to win be­cause he was car­ry­ing the bur­den of nearly win­ning in re­cent years but not do­ing so.

“I was as pa­tient as I think I’ve been in a num­ber of years, es­pe­cially the last three days,” he said. “To see that board, it was a who’s-who. It all flipped at 12. We were a cou­ple be­hind, Francesco made a mis­take, I saw Brook­sie make a mis­take and all th­ese dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios start fly­ing around.”

As he walked to sign his score­card for his tri­umphant fi­nal round, a dozen for­mer and cur­rent stars of the game waited to em­brace him and shake his hand, some­thing that never hap­pened in years past, when Woods was largely a loner at the top of the sport.

As he donned the green jacket for a fifth time, he said some­thing ev­ery­one knew. “It fits.”

Getty Im­ages

Tiger Woods cel­e­brates af­ter sink­ing his putt on the 18th green to win the Masters at Au­gusta Na­tional Golf Club on Sun­day. The vic­tory was Woods’ fifth in Au­gusta, Ga., and was his first grand slam win since 2008, when he cap­tured the U.S. Open.

Getty Im­ages

Tiger Woods cel­e­brates with his son Char­lie Axel, his mother Kul­tida and daugh­ter Sam Alexis af­ter win­ning his fifth Masters.

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