Is Tiger’s comeback the greatest ever?

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick August 5, 2020 12:18

On April 14th, 2019, Tiger Woods claimed the 15th Major title of his career. For someone who has dominated the sport for so long, victory at the US Masters may have seemed routine but, as we know, his most recent Major was far from assured.

On and off the course, Tiger has endured a miserable few years since his previous title – the 2008 US Open. To get back to the top underlines what a tremendous athlete he really is but it also begs the question, is Woods’ comeback the greatest of all time?

Tiger’s dominance

Tiger Woods joined the PGA Tour in 1996 and it wouldn’t take long before he recorded his first tournament win. On October 6, Woods edged out Davis Love III in a playoff to claim the Las Vegas international and he went on to take the Walt Disney World Golf Classic just two weeks later.

It would surely be a matter of time before his precocious talent was rewarded with Major success but few expected him to claim it so quickly. In the 1997 US Masters, Woods picked up his first Green Jacket by the record margin of 12 strokes over Tom Kite.

Throughout the next ten years, Woods would claim 13 additional Major titles. Four US Masters, four PGA Championships, three US Opens and three Open Championships were landed between 1997 and 2008. With 14 Major trophies to his name before the age of 33, it surely wouldn’t be long before statistics backed up the theory that Tiger was the greatest golfer of all time. Only Jack Nicklaus, with his 18 Majors, stood in the way.

Tiger Woods, as he claimed the 15th Major title of his career

Career freefall

Tiger Woods’ dominance of the golfing circuit was initially halted by issues away from the course. The infamous National Enquirer story of November 2009 which first cited marital infidelity led to a bizarre chain of events which included a car accident, therapy and eventual divorce from wife Elin.

Getting his mind back together was the first target but Tiger’s failing body proved to be more problematic. A catalogue of injuries and operations derailed his playing career and led to a lengthy barren spell in terms of trophies. Regular PGA Tour wins came in clusters and, there was a particularly prolific spell between 2012 and 2013 when Woods landed eight titles including two Arnold Palmer Invitationals. A further Major success remained elusive and, up until those incredible four days at Augusta in 2019, it seemed likely that Tiger would end his career with those 14 victories.

The comeback

Having recorded a comeback win at the Tour Championship in September 2018, Woods had some support as he lined up at Augusta seven months later. Those who were betting online found Tiger up towards the top of the outright markets but many tipsters felt it was too much of a gamble.

Having reached his 40s and with no fewer than four back surgeries behind him, Woods had to manage his program and try to peak in terms of form and fitness. Tiger began with a sound, if unspectacular first round of two under which tied him for 11th place along with Rickie Fowler. If Thursday showed tentative promise, Friday was to prove crucial as a four under par round took Woods to within one shot of the leaders.

On Saturday, reigning Open Champion Francesco Molinari made his move and, while Tiger started his fourth round just two shots off the leader, the Italian’s consistency made him a favorite for most observers. Surely Woods’ fitness concerns would play a part on a tense final day?

In the event, Molinari capitulated, and he hasn’t quite been the same golfer since. Woods was the one to benefit and it was his consistency, tee to green which held off a strong set of chasers including Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka. It was a narrow, one shot win but this was no fluke. Tiger Woods was good value for his 15th Major and the emotional scenes that followed underlined the fact that this was one of the most remarkable sporting comebacks ever.

Masters champion Tiger Woods celebrates winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, Sunday, April 14, 2019.

What’s next?

Having answered his critics, Tiger Woods can now focus once again on Jack Nicklaus’ target of 18 Major Championships. In the meantime, any further success at the US Masters will ensure another landmark which may never be broken. At present, only Woods and Nicklaus have won at Augusta in three separate decades and a victory from 2020 onwards would put Tiger in front on his own.

Before that, the remaining two surviving Major tournaments of 2020 will take place. First up is the PGA Championship which takes place in early August at TPC Harding Park. Tiger has won this tournament on four previous occasions, but early betting markets place him some way down the field. With two weeks to go until the first tee shot is hit in anger, Woods was installed as seventh favorite behind the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson and defending Champion Brooks Koepka.

Next up is the US Open where Woods is a three-time champion. The host course this year is Winged Foot which last held the event in 2006. Tiger actually missed the cut that year so his first target will be to stay in contention over four rounds.

November sees the Masters complete the Major year and many see this as Woods’ best chance to add to his Majors haul. It’s a course that he likes and it can be more forgiving if he is missing out on the fairways with a higher degree of regularity.

Woods is ranked down the field for all three 2020 Majors, but those estimates don’t take into account his incredible resolve and determination. Another parallel between the two men shows that Jack Nicklaus won his final Major – the 1986 US Masters – at the age of 46. They seem destined to be closely matched as Tiger moves forwards and looks to build on that incredible comeback in 2019.

 

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick August 5, 2020 12:18
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