TRI­UMPH FOR TIGER

Sum­mon­ing the stuff of leg­ends, Woods rises to re­demp­tion with his fifth Mas­ters crown

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Chris­tine Bren­nan

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The day that many in sports thought would never hap­pen just did. In a sports come­back for the ages, nearly 11 years af­ter he won his last major cham­pi­onship, 43-year-old Tiger Woods has won an­other. For the fifth time in his ca­reer, and the first time in 14 years, Woods has won the Mas­ters.

How fitting it was that Woods, who has en­dured per­sonal scan­dal and four surg­eries on his back, in­clud­ing spinal fu­sion two years ago, ended his drought at the Mas­ters, the first major tour­na­ment he won 22 years ago.

That day, he fell into his late fa­ther’s em­brace as he walked off the 18th green. On this day, he was the fa­ther, walk­ing into the wait­ing arms of his mother, his 11-year-old daugh­ter, Sam, and his 10-year-old son, Char­lie.

The chil­dren, both ath­letes them­selves, had never seen their fa­ther win a major cham­pi­onship, so he flew them in just for the final round, hop­ing it might hap­pen.

“They only knew golf caused me a lot of pain,” he said. “I’m cre­at­ing new mem­o­ries for them. … To have my kids there, it’s come full cir­cle. I think, I hope, they’re proud of their dad.”

Woods won this tour­na­ment as a wiser, chas­tened, more ma­ture mid­dleaged man. The ar­ro­gant fist-pump­ing

golfer who won four green jack­ets from 1997 to 2005 ap­pears to be long gone, re­placed by a bald­ing fa­ther who was pleased to re­port he “plod­ded” his way around Augusta Na­tional Golf Club as his younger com­peti­tors fell away, leav­ing only him stand­ing at the end.

In a telling statis­tic, Woods made nei­ther one ea­gle nor one dou­ble bo­gey across four days of play. This was a vic­tory of mod­er­a­tion, not ex­tremes.

Asked how this one ranked among his now 15 major cham­pi­onships, Woods smiled. “It’s gotta be right up there, right? I was lucky enough and for­tu­nate enough to do this again.”

A young Tiger Woods never would have said that last sentence. He was raised by his fa­ther to be­lieve it was his birthright to win ma­jors. But for this Tiger, ac­cept­ing the gift of be­ing able to com­pete again at the top of his game was enough.

Woods won this major cham­pi­onship the old-fash­ioned way: Just as he used to win them.

As he calmly chomped on his now­ever-present gum and en­dured what­ever Augusta Na­tional threw at him on his way to a steady, two-un­der-par 70, his com­peti­tors – many of them young golfers who grew up watching and idol­iz­ing him – slowly fell by the way­side.

Not one, not two, not three but four of those in or near the lead hit shots into Rae’s Creek in front of the par-3 12th hole Sun­day. What are the odds of that? One by one, they gave away their chance to win. It was as if the gods of golf had come down from the heav­ens and deemed it was Tiger’s turn to win again.

As Woods nav­i­gated the car­nage, he emerged with a back-nine lead he never re­lin­quished, al­low­ing him to have a safe and sweet walk up the packed 18th fair­way to a vic­tory he had for so long hoped would come.

As he made a no-frills bo­gey to win by one over a trio of younger stars, he hugged nearly ev­ery­one in his path and raised his arms in both re­lief and stun­ning tri­umph.

It was al­most un­be­liev­able that it had been less than two years since his alarm­ing DUI mug shot, a year and a half since he said he couldn’t get off the couch to watch his kids play soccer – and nearly 10 years since his wellpub­li­cized, self-in­duced per­sonal scan­dal. That seems like an­cient his­tory now, doesn’t it?

If you still can’t be­lieve he did this, you’re not alone. Woods agrees.

“I had se­ri­ous doubts af­ter what tran­spired a few years ago with the pro­ce­dure on my back,” he said af­ter the final round. “The body’s not the same as it was.

“I was just very lucky to be playing again. I was really strug­gling. To now be the cham­pion, it’s just un­real for me to ex­pe­ri­ence it.”

“They only knew golf caused me a lot of pain. … To have my kids there, it’s come full cir­cle. I think, I hope, they’re proud of their dad.” Tiger Woods, on his chil­dren

ROB SCHU­MACHER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Tiger Woods seals the win Sun­day with a putt on the 18th green of Augusta for his fifth Mas­ters cham­pi­onship – and his first in 14 years.

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