Each generation would be left to choose its own greatest golf story, in the context of its own time — Bobby Jones winning the Grand Slam in 1930; Byron Nelson in 1945, scoring 11 consecutive wins, 18 overall; Arnold Palmer and the electrifying rally in the 1960 U.S. Open and his monumental effect on the game; Jack Nicklaus and his towering skills, winner of a record 18 majors, et al.
And, of course, Tiger Woods — his immense talent, the numerous victories, and then just when his incandescent career seemed to be burning out, recovering from painful and disabling physical problems to win the 2019 Masters. It was his fifth, at age 43, and it came against a host of new and young talent. Woods won his first Masters in 1997 at age 21, the youngest champion, with an 18-under 270 total, and by 12 strokes — all records. He won in 2001 by two, 2002 by three, 2005 in a playoff and now 2019 by one.
Where would Masters 2019 fit in Woods’ memory?
“There were so many different scenarios that could have transpired on that back nine,” said Woods, reflecting on the double bogey at the 12th that erased Francesco Molinari’s lead and changed the face of this Masters. “There were so many guys that had a chance to win. Leaderboard was absolutely packed and everyone was playing well. You couldn’t have had more drama than we all had out there.
“I was grinding hard trying to chase Francesco,” said Woods, marveling at the abrupt change, “and then all of a sudden the leaderboard flipped and there were a bunch of guys up there who had a chance to win.”
Masters 2019 will always be thought of as the comeback of Tiger Woods, but it was actually more than that. Medically and physically, it was a rebirth, as well. It had been 11 years since his previous win in a major, the 2008 U.S. Open, and 14 years since his last Masters, in 2005. Since 2007, he’d had surgery five times on his left knee and four times on his back.
“I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple years ago,” Woods said. “I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lay down. I really couldn’t do much of anything. Luckily, I had the procedure on my back, which gave me a chance at having a normal life. But then all of a sudden, I realized I could actually swing a golf club again. I felt if I could somehow piece this together that I still had the hands to do it. The body’s not the same as it was a long time ago, but I still have good hands.”
His win had an impact on the golfers he’d just beaten.
“It’s hard to really feel bad about how I played because I just witnessed history,” said Xander Schauffele, 26, who led for about 30 seconds before tying for second, a stroke behind Woods. “Coming down the stretch Tiger making the roars. I got the full Masters experience.”
Said Brooks Koepka, who also tied for second: “You want to play against the best ever to play … go toe-to-toe with them. I can leave, saying I gave it my all. He’s just good, man.”
And Molinari, who tied for fifth: “It was great to see … his story, his comeback, and to be a witness in first person, it’s nice.”
And said Tiger Woods: “Everyone was playing well at the same time, and it could have gone so many different ways. Just happened to hang in there and persevere.