It’s time to hold my hands up. I was among those who had written off Tiger Woods as a major winner. In fact, even seeing him back playing again was something that had become a serious doubt.
Thank goodness, he did return after the fourth back operation of his career. Thank goodness, he got back to winning ways in the Tour Championship last year. Thank, goodness, he is indeed a major champion again.
His fifth Masters success on Sunday has handed golf a huge boost. A photograph of Tiger’s roar of joy after holing the winning putt on a dramatic day at Augusta National appeared on front pages of newspapers around the world – this one included.
The rest of this golfing year – as well as the next – has been energised as Woods, having finally moved off the 14 mark, bids to try to beat the record 18 major titles held by Jack Nicklaus.
The next two majors – the US PGA Championship and the US Open – are at Bethpage Black and Pebble Beach respectively, venues where he’s won in the past. Can he really arrive at Royal Portrush for the Open Championship in July with a chance to move level with Nicklaus?
It’s a tall order but, after what he achieved at Augusta National, it certainly can’t be ruled out. He may not have blown the field away like he once did, but this was undoubtedly one of the greatest performances of his career.
At long last, Tiger has accepted that he can no longer try to lash the golf ball like a madman due to his physical capabilities these days and father time catching up with him. He plays within himself now, something that certainly wasn’t the case when the gun went off in events during that barren 11-year run without winning a major.
Woods hit 35 out of 56 fairways last week, which is not great but didn’t do him any harm. On the occasions he was a bit wild, he either took his medicine or, at the 11th in the final round, for example, got lucky as he found an escape route from the trees.
The most telling statistic, though, in the season’s opening major was that he hit the most greens in regulation in the field – 58 out of 72, including 31 out of 36 over the weekend. His iron play was every bit as impressive as it always has been. His putting was above the field average in all but the opening round, but he holed the ones that mattered.
In short, his overall game is back in working order, which is pretty incredible, really, when you think back to when he a bad bout of the chipping yips in 2015 and 2016. That was painful to watch, so to get back to where he is now, especially when you also factor in his private life having been thrown into turmoil for a spell and all his physical issues, truly is remarkable.
For some, Ben Hogan made the greatest comeback in golf as he survived a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus to return to the game and win six of his nine major titles, including all three he was able to contest in 1953.
Woods himself has acknowledged that as having been remarkable, but, for those who chanted “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger” as he left the 18th green on Sunday, this is the ultimate sporting comeback and, I for one, agree.
Humble pie has never tasted so good.