Opinion: The mother of all comebacks

Is there anything more intriguing in sports than a comeback? And often the farther someone falls, the more intriguing their success story can be. They don't get any better than Tiger Woods', writes Chuck Penfold.
Chuck Penfold
Chuck Penfold

There are few athletes who achieve such domination that they become household names, familiar even to non-sports fans all over the world. But Tiger Woods achieved this from the mid-1990s through and beyond the mid-2000s. Unless you were a true fan of golf, Woods' dominance of the PGA Tour became rather boring — with the only question on an awful lot of weekends being who would come second in the tournament in question. That's how dominant he was.

Steep fall

Although he already had a couple of knee operations behind him, his fall from grace began with a car accident in front of his home in Florida in November of 2009. It seemed completely out of character for someone who, up until that point, had seemed always to be in control. Then came the news of a number of affairs and the breakdown of his marriage. In 2010, not only did he lose the No. 1 ranking that he had held for 281 weeks, but he also lost $20 million worth of endorsements after several of his major sponsors bailed on him. 

DW Sports editor Chuck Penfold

Despite the personal problems, Woods continued to try to play golf over the ensuing few years, but knee and back problems continued to take their toll, reducing him to an also-ran — when he did manage to play through the pain. There was a comeback in late 2016 after a back injury had kept him out of action for over a year. It was then that he admitted that the pain had been so bad that at one point he seriously doubted whether he would ever be able to pick up a club again.

And things would get worse before they got better. Police in Florida arrested Woods in May 2017 after finding him asleep in his car on the side of the road. Who can forget the mugshot that graced internet sites and newspapers around the globe? Many found it very hard to believe his claim that he not been drunk at the wheel. It turned out that golf's former top player was telling the truth — a toxicology test found no alcohol, but a cocktail of drugs in his system to deal with pain due to a back operation he'd had a month earlier.

Pain-free at last

What's the old saying about things being darkest before the dawn? It happens to have been that same spinal-fusion surgery that allowed Tiger later that year to declare himself pain-free for the first time a very long time. And he proved it by winning the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

Just winning any tournament was remarkable, but coming back to win the Masters 14 years after he last did so is the mother of all comebacks — as much a testament to his perseverance as a demonstration of his supreme talent. The way the gallery followed and cheered on the 43-year-old during Sunday's final round also showed how popular he still is with the fans — perhaps even more so now as a fallible human being than during his days of controlled dominance. The question on fans' minds since Sunday has to be: Was this just a one-off, or could there be more majors to come?

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

Child prodigy

At just six months old, the young Tiger Woods was reportedly able to copy his dad's golf swings. Eighteen months later, he'd made his first appearance on TV. By the age of 13, he'd become close to a household name, featuring on all the major networks in the US. He was also picking up just about every trophy in the junior ranks.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

Turning pro

The American turned pro at 20 after picking up a trio US Amatuer titles and, true to form, wasted no time making his mark. Just two months after becoming a professional in 1996, he was picking up his first PGA Tour win at the Las Vegas Invitational.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

Master of the Majors

If the win in Vegas was a milestone, this was the moment Woods really arrived on the global stage. At 21, he became the youngest man ever to win at Augusta and picked up the famous green jacket. He'd go on to win the Masters three more times, with his current major championship tally standing at 14.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

The Grand Slam

April 8, 2001 was arguably the most remarkable day of an astounding career. Again it came at Augusta as Woods picked up a second Masters win. Impressive as that is, that win also mean he held all four major titles at once, something no other golfer has managed.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

Pairing up

In October 2004, Woods married Swedish model Elin Nordegren after he met her through fellow golfer Jesper Parnevik, for whom Nordegren worked as a nanny. The pair tied the knot in Barbados and had a son named Charlie Axel and a daugher named Sam together.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

Accident causes all sorts of damage

Throughout his career up to this point in 2009, Woods had always maintained a squeaky clean image. But in the wake of allegations of multiple affairs, he crashed his car in to a fire hydrant, a tree and some hedges outside his Florida mansion. The subsequent days, weeks and months saw him pull out of tournaments, lose several lucrative sponsorship deals and his marriage ended in 2010.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

The title that looked like the last

The Bridgestone Invitational at the Firestone Country Clum in Akron, Ohio is far from the most prestigious of tournaments. But, until this week, it looked like it would have a certain sort of significance. This 2013 win was Woods' 79th PGA Tour win and, for a long time, looked like being his last.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

Not ready for the comeback

After missing the Masters for the first time in his career in 2014, Woods returned to Augusta a year later. But it wasn't the comeback he'd hoped for. Woods looked out of sorts and was clearly struggling with the back injuries that would eventually require several operations and a lot of recovery time.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

The low point

In the early hours of the morning, again not far from his Florida home, Woods was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs after falling asleep at the wheel in a traffic lance with the engine running. Woods initially blamed it on prescription drugs and later pleaded guilty to reckless driving, was fined and banned from drinking alcohol for the year that he's under probation.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

First win for five years

After making his way back from nearly two years out injured and position 1199 on the world ranking list, Woods finally got his hands on some silverware again after five long years at the weekend. "I just can't believe I pulled this off," the 42-year-old said. "I was having a hard time not crying coming up to the last hole." He'll now play for the USA in the Ryder Cup.

Tiger Woods: Heaven, hell and back

Back at the top

Woods' remarkable comeback was complete when he sealed an unexpected win at the 2019 Masters. Having kept himself in contention, Woods stayed calmed on the final day when others didn't and sealed his first major in 11 years, and his first Masters in 14 years. He finished 13-under par, winning by one shot over a trio of chasers. It was Woods' 15th major title and perhaps the greatest of them all.

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