AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fourteen years after he last earned a green jacket and two years after he wore it while telling fellow champions that he probably never would play competitive golf again, Tiger Woods achieved a new peak in his remarkable career. He turned back a pack of young Woods-inspired golfers, turned back the clock and won the Masters.
It was his 15th major championship but his first in 11 years, and it set off a celebration unlike any other. He gave a fist pump, punched the air with both hands and enjoyed a screaming hug with caddie Joe LaCava. Then he shared smiling tearful hugs with his two children and his mother as the crowd roared “Ti-ger!”
The golfer who became a sensation at 21 in 1997 with the first of his five Masters titles said: “It’s come full circle. My dad was here in ’97. I’m the dad now.”
Woods also is rejuvenated. He said his back had been so bad that it was a struggle for him just to attend the 2017 champions dinner here. At that event, he told fellow green jacket winners that his career was over. He had not imagined that spinal fusion surgery would allow him to prevail down the stretch on a Sunday at Augusta National, shooting 2-under-par 70 and finishing 13 under — one shot better than Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele.
“I had some serious doubts after what transpired a couple years ago. I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t lay down,” Woods said, crediting his daughter Sam and son Charlie for raising his spirits. “Prior to the comeback, they only knew that golf caused me a lot of pain. So, you know, we’re creating new memories for them . . . I just was able to be lucky enough to be able to do this again.”
He also has overcome personal issues, notably a series of affairs that became widely known after a 2009 vehicle crash in front of his home and a 2017 arrest for driving under the influence of prescription medicine.
Now 43, he requires a daily routine just to get his body ready for tournament play. That meant a wake-up call before 4 a.m. Sunday. The final round was moved up nearly six hours because of a fierce approaching storm that never materialized.
The greatest thunder came from Woods against younger tour stars who grew up watching him dominate. At pivotal moments this time, he dominated them. One by one, they fell back or fell short, sometimes dramatically.
“There were so many different scenarios that could have transpired on that back nine,” Woods said, aware that six golfers held or shared the lead on the back nine (Patrick Cantlay briefly was alone in first). “Now you know why I’m balding. This stuff is hard.”
Francesco Molinari, who beat Woods head-to-head to win the British Open last year, squandered a three-stroke lead and dropped out of contention after hitting balls in the water on the 12th and 15th holes. Woods moved into first place alone with a birdie on 15 and added a flourish with a birdie on 16.
The loud cheers were reminiscent of Woods’ heyday, yet the overall scene was markedly different. There was the absence of the late Earl Woods, who defied doctors’ warnings about his heart condition to come to Augusta in 1997 so he could give his son one last putting lesson. That advice echoed in Tiger’s mind on the 12th and 13th holes Sunday.
It was the first time Woods won a major without having led or shared a lead after 54 holes. “This is,” he said, “probably one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had, for sure, because of it.
“It’s special to me. It’s special to my friends and family and I think that everyone who was here got a chance to witness something that was amazing. Everyone was playing well at the same time and it could have gone so many different ways.”
But it went only one way. It became this generation’s answer to Jack Nicklaus’ triumph at 46 in the 1986 Masters. As Woods approached the scoring room in the clubhouse, a Who’s Who of today’s golf was waiting to greet him: Koepka, Schauffele, Bubba Watson, Justin Thomas and others.
During the awards ceremony, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley called it “an epic Sunday at the Masters and a great day for golf.” Patrick Reed, the winner here last year, placed the green jacket on the past and current champion, who said, “It fits.”