If Tom Watson would have won the British Open at the age of 59 back in 2009, in my opinion that would have been the biggest sports story of all time.
But, of course it didn’t happen and Watson had to settle for second place after a playoff with Stewart Cink. I’ll never forget being glued to the television in the early hours of that Sunday 10 years ago.
Fast forward to last Sunday when Tiger Woods pulled off an improbable victory at The Masters, winning his first major tournament in 11 years. It was his fifth Masters win, but the first in 14 years.
I’m not saying this story equals what would have been if Watson had pulled off a triumph at Turnberry in 2009. However, this has to rank as one of the best, if not the best, comeback scenario in the history of sports.
Yes, we all know I’m a huge Tiger Woods fan. But even if you don’t care for him, you have to admit this was a victory for the ages.
I remember covering the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minnesota. In a column I wrote after three rounds, I all but guaranteed that Woods was on his way to his 15th major tournament victory.
He had a substantial lead on the field and had played flawlessly for three days. This was still in the period when he was dominating golf, winning at a mind-boggling pace, especially in majors.
However, as it turned out Y.A. Yang eventually hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy and shortly thereafter Tiger’s life turned upside down.
By now we’re all aware of the personal and physical issues he has dealt with over the past decade. No, I don’t expect any detractors to feel sorry for him, but it’s difficult to fathom that a man who has undergone four back surgeries and could hardly walk a couple of years ago could somehow rise to the elite level of golf again.
I’ve listened to interviews with both Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – two guys who know a little something about winning major tournaments – the past week and both mentioned that experience and raw talent were major factors in Tiger’s latest resurrection.
Woods himself admits that he can’t physically do what he did in his prime, but at age 43 he still figured out a way to win another major. That alone is enough for me to declare him officially back in business.
Heading into Sunday’s final round, it looked for all the world that Francesco Molinari was the man to beat. He had gone something like 50 holes without making a bogey before finally doing so late in the third round. Molinari still had a two-shot lead over Woods and Tiger had never won a major when trailing heading into the final 18 holes.
But as fate would have it, Molinari uncharacteristically unraveled around Amen Corner, plunking balls into Rae’s Creek on both No. 12 and No. 15, resulting in double bogeys.
In the meantime, young superstars such as Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffle were in hot pursuit. Koepka, in fact, could have made it very interesting had he birdied the 18th hole, but his putt slipped past the hole and he had to settle for par.
DJ probably ran out of holes after birdies on four of the last five. Had he gotten hot a little earlier, who knows what would have happened.
As it turned out, Tiger needed only a bogey on No. 18 to send the Augusta National galleries (or patrons if you’re watching on CBS) into a frenzy. Did you happen to hear the chants of “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger!” as he was heading off the green?
A lot has changed for Tiger Woods since the days he reduced most golf tournaments he played into a race for second place. He’s now a father of two, seems much more receptive of fans who appreciate what he’s done and still doing on the golf course.
One thing, though, hasn’t changed. He’s still one of the best players on the planet and proved that by pulling within three major of tying Nicklaus for the all-time mark. Jack himself said he is “shaking in his boots” as to what will ultimately transpire if Woods stays healthy.
Whether you like him or not — and I realize there are plenty out there who don’t — if you’re a true fan of the game of golf, you had to at least appreciate what took place at The Masters.
I’ve felt for the past two decades that Tiger is the greatest of all time. That’s certainly debatable, but if his back holds up, I truly believe he will pass Nicklaus before it’s all said and done.
Only time will tell, but for this particular golf fan, Sunday was a day I’ll never forget.