Tiger Woods has endured quite the fall. Some of that was his own doing, as his sex scandal–and ensuing fallout–arguably cost him two years of his golf career. In 2009, he was already recovering from knee surgery, and the scandal threw in a mental challenge that was new to him, in a sport where small mental issues can make or break you.
But in 2012, he seemed to be on the way back. He had a strong game, racked up some wins, and was making strong showings in the major tournaments, and he was bringing in more money than anyone else.
Then, his problems began to mount. His back began to fail him. His driving distance dropped. Holes that he once counted on as eagle-birdie chances became birdie-par. He wasn’t hitting greens, and was forced to go “up and down” more than before.
He started missing cuts. Lots of cuts.
He became a non-factor in major tournaments that he once dominated.
Three back surgeries left him unable to contend.
When he opted for a fourth surgery, most experts–even Tiger himself–wondered if he was done for good. Back surgery is hit-and-miss, and even when successful, there is no guarantee that he would have enough range of motion in his swing to get the distance that he needed. And as he ages, back problems can continue to mount.
But this year, it was different.
His swing was better. He was more comfortable. He missed fewer cuts. He was farther up on the leaderboard.
Going into this years’ Masters Championship, Tiger was more ready than he’d been in years. Sure, he wasn’t what he once was, but–as the song goes–he was counting on being “as good once as he ever was”. Or, more importantly, good enough for 4 rounds.
His first three rounds weren’t perfect, but he was close enough to make a charge. And to win, he would have to do something he’d never done before: come from behind. (Yes, you read that correctly: in Tiger’s 14 previous Majors, he had never come from behind to win; he had always led in the final round.)
Yesterday, after coming back from a severe knee surgery in 2008, a sex scandal and a messy divorce in 2009-10, and four back surgeries, Tiger won his first Major championship in 11 years: his fifth Masters Championship.
And he came from behind in the final round to do it.
Yes, I know, the naysayers will pile onto him over his sex scandal. I say he’s suffered plenty.
At this point, it is fair to recognize his victory for what it is: arguably the biggest comeback in the history of sports.
I know a thing or two about back surgery. It’s why I refuse to get it before I absolutely must have it. It is hit or miss, and even when it is successful, there are no guarantees.
There’s a difference between being functional versus being able to enjoy athletic activity. I know marathoners who, after back surgery, had to retire to smaller distances.
In a sport like golf, range of motion is everything, as that is critical to having distance both off the tee and in the fairway. If surgery can’t allow you that, it’s a failure, even if you can otherwise walk comfortably.
And rehabbing from surgery is no walk in the park, either. Literally anything can go wrong.
But Tiger not only recovered, but he came back able to compete. And he was good enough to beat a field that was more competitive than at any of his previous Masters championships.
Tiger is officially back.
What does this say of his challenging Jack Nicklaus for career Major championships? I don’t know, but his odds clearly went up after yesterday.
Woods is at 15 and Nicklaus is at 18. Woods is 43 years old; Nicklaus was 46 when he won his final Major.
If Woods manages to stay healthy, he will be a major force at every tournament. Whatever mental challenge he had before, he just buried that. He has his game back; he also has his Game back.
His competition will be tough, but so will he.
At this point, I’d say Nicklaus is in trouble. Tiger’s win yesterday was a game-changer.
Not just THAT he did it, but HOW he did it.