Comeback stories over the past year have dominated the world of sport. Tyson Fury’s resurgence and a 12-round bout with Denotay Wilder, the Scotland rugby team’s remarkable recovery against England in the Six Nations to salvage a 38-38 draw serve as only recent examples. Yet, Tiger Woods has arguably surpassed any of these recent efforts as he donned the famous green jacket for the fifth time, his fifteenth major and first since the U.S. Open in 2008.
It is hard to think of a more competitive Masters tournament, in my own lifetime that is, as multiple big names were in contention heading into the final day. The first two days started in good fashion with Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka holding the lead. The eventual winner was to be found, not in a weak position by any means, but four off the top, sitting at two under. Reigning champion Patrick Reed did not get off to the start he hoped for, finishing one over on the first day and, from then on, never looking likely to become the first person to win the Masters in successive years since Tiger himself in 2001 and 2002 respectively.
With the exception of 2017’s winner, Sergio Garcia, and current world number one, Justin Rose, no huge names were to miss out on the cut. This was a key factor in the entertainment value of this year’s tournament. By the end of the second day, five were tied for the lead, with a further four, including Tiger, just one behind. Of these five in the lead, only Francesco Molinari and Brooks Koepka were to be in contention on the final day. With the recent winning of last year’s Open at Carnoustie (as well as the Arnold Palmer Invitational a few weeks back) and the latter winning two of the four majors on offer last year, it was easy to think either of these two would be wearing the green jacket by the end of the week.
As Koepka dropped off slightly on the third day, it was Tony Finau, Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari heading out as the final group, with Molinari holding a two-shot lead. The leader-board continued to flip-flop throughout the day with the surprise name, Patrick Cantlay, holding the lead at one stage, eventually shooting four under for the day. The well-known, Rickie Fowler, also continued to make his way up the leader-board, finishing with an impressive ten under as he continues to chase his first major.
However, unsurprisingly, the cameras mainly focused on the leading trio of Finau, Woods and Molinari. It was the Italian who started comfortably, showing composure to gain pars after making things sticky for himself on more than one occasion after his drive. By contrast, Tiger, made consecutive bogies at one point on the front nine, falsely suggesting that the calmness which marked his dominant years had perhaps faded. Whilst Molinari was showing determination, one could not help but think he was flirting with luck. Playing alongside arguably the greatest of all time and all those cheering him on was bound to take its toll eventually.
The back nine at Augusta are renowned for crushing even the best golfer’s hopes. Jordan Spieth fell victim to it back in 2016, essentially handing the title to the eventual winner, Englishman Danny Willett. Rory McIlroy, whose hunt for the green jacket eluded him once more this year, also surrendered to the difficulty of the task back in 2011. Sadly, for Molinari, in what looked like a brutal combination of pressure and stress, we were to see a repeat. After hitting the water at the twelfth and the fifteenth, last year’s Open winner was to fade away, eventually finishing third along with three others. Whilst he can look back on an impressive performance, the Italian will no doubt see it as a missed opportunity. Sport is not without its ironies either, as it was Woods who trailed round Molinari at Carnoustie last year which would see him become the first Italian to win a major championship.
The only likely candidate who looked like he may catch up to Tiger was Brooks Koepka, who in fact, was a hole ahead of him. Similarly, Koepka will likely reminisce on a missed opportunity, failing to make a birdie in the end, allowing Tiger to bogey the final hole whilst also avoiding a play-off.
For all the criticism we can dish out of other players’ performances and their missed opportunities, we should not take away from Woods’ remarkable comeback. Having been ranked 1 199th in the world a mere sixteen months ago, with many, perhaps including himself, ruling out the possibility of performing on the big stage, never mind dominating it once again. Whilst his personal life, regardless of our thoughts on it, will always come under scrutiny, the now fifteen-time major-winner has set down a marker. He is back and here to stay.