Tiger Woods’ victory at the Masters wasn’t supposed to happen

A major golf champion again, Tiger proved the power of showing up doubters

Tiger Woods reacts on the ninth hole during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14 in Augusta, Georgia. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

By Jerry Bembry

As Tiger Woods walked off the 18th green moments after winning the 2019 Masters and capping one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, he flipped his putter to the ground in a manner that would have made Yasiel Puig proud. Seconds later, Woods lifted and embraced his 10-year-old son, Charlie, bringing back memories of the emotional embrace that a young Tiger and his father, Earl Woods, shared at Augusta after Tiger won his first Masters 22 years ago.

With Woods ending an 11-year drought in major championships and earning his first win at Augusta since his 3-stroke win in a playoff in 2005, the indelible images from his 15th career major win were numerous:

  • Woods’ gum-popping plea for his shot to be right on the par-3 16th hole, just moments before his ball landed well past the flag, then found a slope that carried it within 2 feet of the pin — and an easy birdie.
  • The roar of the crowd as Woods, with a 2-shot lead, strode down the 18th fairway.
  • The embraces Woods shared with the rest of his family after releasing his grip on his son.
  • The top golfers in the game, many of whom began their careers after Woods won his last major championship in 2008, sticking around outside the clubhouse to show their appreciation for the player who put them in position to make the amount of money that golfers, 20 years ago, could have never imagined.

As a nation stood witness to the golf brilliance of the man who is perhaps the biggest unifier in this country today — who else can get the president, Candace Owens, Barack Obama, Serena Williams and Stephen Curry on the same page? — let’s give credit to Woods for overcoming a decade of personal and physical challenges that had haters celebrating his every mistake.

The physical issues — the multiple spinal surgeries, the stress fracture and torn ACL he combated to win the 2008 U.S. Open, the MCL sprain and multiple Achilles injuries — sidelined Woods for extended periods of time and even had him doubting whether he’d play golf again. “It was not a fun time,” Woods said last year of his 2017 recovery from a back operation. “Tough couple of years there.”

But the personal issues, which surfaced after reports in 2009 that Woods had cheated on his wife, were likely bigger challenges for the golfer than any surgical procedure. In an instant, Woods went from one of the most beloved golfers on the planet to living the life of a leper.

Late-night talk show hosts clowned him. Tabloids and magazines splashed Woods across their front pages in an attempt to boost sales. Jesper Parnevik, who introduced Woods to his wife, said, “We probably thought he was a better guy than he is.”

Some of Woods’ lucrative endorsement deals were snatched. And with the universal love for him fading, Woods, a self-proclaimed Cablinasian, was being judged by the way society viewed him.

As a black man.

Do you think any other golfer who was in the midst of marital issues would have had to step up to a microphone to apologize for his actions in his marriage and admit to having gone to rehab for sex addiction?

Do you think Billy Payne, the then-chairman of Augusta National (a golf course that barred black golfers until Lee Elder played in the Masters in 1975) would have scolded any other golfer for having relations outside a marriage the way he lashed out at Woods?

By the way, Payne, who retired in late 2017, was radio silent in 2014 when Phil Mickelson was implicated in an insider trading scandal.

Fair or unfair, Woods became an easy target. His 2017 DUI arrest (lab tests revealed he was under the influence of painkillers, sleep drugs and an ingredient active in marijuana) fueled more criticism. And that increased the number of doubters. Some of the same media people who praised the win by Woods on Sunday have been captured on tape claiming he’d never be victorious or competitive again.

(Note: Tiger Woods was not really looking at video of the criticism of him.)

On Sunday, Woods proved the haters wrong. He twirled his club as he hit drives down the middle of fairways, pumped his fists as he made crucial putts and enjoyed each moment of a major tournament victory that many assumed would never happen.

But even with the doubters, the fact Woods was in contention on the final day of a major had a nation of sports fans tuned in. The NBA and NHL playoffs, the discussions about the upcoming NFL draft and the early-season MLB storylines all took a back seat to golf on Sunday.

All because Tiger was back on the prowl.

Not long after sinking the putt that sealed the championship, Woods stood up after his postmatch interview for the moment that had eluded him for 14 years. As Patrick Reed, last year’s winner, held the jacket for the new winner to put on, Woods could be heard saying, “Yeah, buddy.”

If only for a weekend, Woods is back as a major golf champion. And only Woods knows the extent of the physical and mental anguish he overcame to get to this moment.

Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi once said: “The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back.”

After spending the past decade being knocked to his knees, Tiger Woods got back on his feet on Sunday and delivered a moment in sports that few of us will ever forget.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 14: Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates after sinking his putt to win during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)