On an otherwise bright day in December of 2015 in the Bahamas, where soft breezes off the sparkling waters pleasantly mixed with warm temperatures, a dark, depressing cloud emerged in the form of a hobbled, subdued Tiger Woods.
Once a relentlessly intense and invincible force who spent a record 683 weeks as the world’s top-ranked player, made a record 142 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour, won 14 major championships in 12 years and was sitting on 79 PGA Tour titles, Woods delivered grim news ahead of the Hero World Challenge.
He didn’t know what his future held.
Three microdiscectomy procedures to his back in the previous 18 months had provided short-term relief but little stability long-term. His 2014 and 2015 were painfully abysmal, his troublesome back leading to just one top-10, six missed cuts and three withdrawals in 20 events around the world.
His career, he feared, could well be over.
“Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?” he said that gloomy day. “I don’t know. I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy.”
The following year he played just once, then withdrew in two events in early 2017. At the Champions Dinner that year at Augusta National Golf Club, he told a few members of the elite fraternity his playing days might be over.
The next day, however, Woods traveled overseas to meet with Hail Mary. In England, he met with a back specialist, who recommended to Woods a risky spinal fusion procedure. Woods, with his way of life in jeopardy, let alone his golf career, decided to have an anterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery two weeks later. The procedure was performed by Dr. Richard Guyer of the Center for Disc Replacement at the Texas Back Institute.
The surgery brought instant relief, and Woods began to slowly rebuild his body.
For the first time in a very long time, he saw light at the end of the tunnel.
“It was not a fun time and a tough couple years there,” Woods said in 2019 at the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual dinner during Masters week. He was there to receive the Ben Hogan Award, which annually is given to someone in the game “who has continued to be active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness.”
“But I was able to start to walk again, I was able to participate in life, I was able to be around my kids again and go to their games, go to their practices, take them to school again,” Woods continued. “These are all things I couldn’t do for a very long time.”
The day after the GWAA dinner, Woods was playing in the Masters again and pursuing not only his fifth green jacket, but a comeback for the ages that would further cement his standing as one of the most important figures ever to step on Augusta National’s hallowed grounds.
“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.”
Since first arriving at Augusta National in 1995 as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Woods has authored some of the game’s greatest moments that will long live in golf’s chronicles.
He gave hints of his pending stardom when he was the low amateur in his debut, impressing the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd and Fred Couples in practice rounds and then in his four trips around the grounds during the tournament. Woods was equally awed by the surroundings, and the student from Stanford didn’t waste a chance to turn Augusta National into the largest classroom he’d ever experienced.
“I liked him a lot,” said Joe LaCava, who was on the bag for Couples at the time but has been by Woods’ side since 2012. “Very friendly. Good guy. For a 20-year-old he knew more about sports than most 20-year-olds. We kind of hit it off on the NFL. And he knew a little bit about hockey, which I was surprised at being a California guy. He knew I was a Rangers guy.
“And he was picking their brains, Norman and Floyd and Fred. It was fun.”
LaCava urged Woods to get into the ears of his playing partners, and Woods did just that, asking about the proper angles to take on the course, tips on hitting certain chips shots, advice on how to handle the treacherous greens.
As for length, Woods already had that covered.
“My first impression of Tiger was, ‘Wow, bombing it and killing it,’” LaCava said. “Fred was very long back in the day. But Tiger was this young kid hitting it past all those guys. And it seemed effortless. He was taking a big swing at it. I remember thinking if this guy drives it like this, when he comes out here, he’ll be tough to beat.
“Back then, there wasn’t much technology. It had just been the introduction of metal woods. But he was hitting it well over 300 yards. Fred was one of the top dogs at 285 maybe. And Tiger was hitting it 25 yards by him at least. You knew with that kind of length, he had the capability of destroying the golf course.
“Then in ’97, you didn’t think he’d shoot 18 under and win by 12, but you knew he was very capable of winning. I certainly didn’t think he’d win that soon. To win by 12 with 6 under being second place means the conditions had to be pretty tough. Incredible he shot 18 under but more incredible he won by 12.
“It was incredibly impressive to me.”
Woods, who missed the cut at Augusta National in 1996 after winning the U.S. Amateur again in 1995, unleashed all his arsenal during his ground-shaking, record-breaking performance in 1997. During his 12-shot romp, in which he broke Nicklaus’ scoring record by firing rounds of 70-66-65-69 to finish at 18-under 270 and become, at 21, the youngest Masters champion in history, Woods dropped jaws with his breathtaking length. He led the field in driving distance at 323 yards (25 yards farther than the next longest hitter) and hit 9-iron for his second shot into the par-5 second hole, wedge into the par-5 15th and sand wedge into the par-4 18th.
He also didn’t have a single three-putt.
In other words, in his first major as a professional, he destroyed the course and his peers with one of the most dominant feats golf has ever seen. In just four days, the mixed-race kid from a middle-class background changed the face of the game, moved Augusta National officers to alter the course, inspired a generation of kids to yearn to be the next Tiger Woods and triggered TV ratings unseen before as he lured many fans to watch a game they had never previously tuned into.
It was just the first of many titanic milestones at Augusta National.
In 2001 he completed the Tiger Slam by holding off Phil Mickelson and David Duval to become the only player ever to hold all four professional major championship trophies at the same time.
In 2002, 100 years after Bobby Jones was born, Woods joined Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only players to win consecutive green jackets.
In 2005 he delivered one of the greatest chip shots in the game’s history when he holed out from behind the green on the par-3 16th in the final round – the Nike swoosh hanging on the lip for 1.8 seconds before dropping into the hole – en route to his playoff victory over Chris DiMarco.
In 2019, he completed his resurrection from some of the most painful moments of his life to win his fifth green jacket.
Woods also finished runner-up in 2007 and 2008, tied for third in 2006, and tied for fourth in 2010 (when he returned from public scandal), 2011 and 2013. That was the year when, in the second round, his third shot to the 15th clanked off the flagstick into a water hazard and led to Woods taking an illegal drop that he wasn’t penalized for until the following day. He also finished fifth in 2000.
In all, he has five wins, 14 top-10s and 12 top-5s in 20 starts in the Masters as a pro.
“Every major is important to Tiger, but he knows each year that the Masters is a great opportunity to get a win with a smaller field and a course he understands so well,” said Steve Williams, who was on Woods’ bag for 13 wins in majors, including three Masters. “In his prime, Augusta suited Tiger’s game – his length and ability to hit the irons so high with control along with incredible speed control on the greens made him so tough to beat. He always was comfortable there. He loves the place.”
Well, it was love at first sight for Woods.
“I’ve been a part of the Masters since I was 19 years old, and it doesn’t cease to amaze me when I go back to Augusta National, just the beauty and the history and the aura around it, it’s just unlike anything that we have in our sport,” he said.
Woods turned Augusta National into his second home despite being at the epicenter of the buzz that emerges each year when the Masters rolls around. He was always the favorite when he took to the first tee on Thursday and always drew the most media attention by miles, luring the largest galleries by far.
Yet he still stood as tall as any of the towering Georgia pines that rim the course despite the din encircling him. So much so that there are those who believe he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the Masters along with the founder of the club and amateur icon Robert Tyre Jones Jr.; Arnold Palmer, who won four Masters and took the game to the masses on black-and-white TVs; and Jack Nicklaus, the greatest champion in Masters history with six green jackets.
“There are the four people that leave an undeniable thread in the tapestry of the Masters,” 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman said. “It starts with Bobby Jones, as the founder of the club and course designer and a man who was a great player and visionary. Then you look at Arnold Palmer and the excitement he brought to the game and how he treated the fans. And then you look at Jack Nicklaus, who has won the most Masters and had that incredible win as a 46-year-old man. And Tiger Woods would be my fourth one.
“Tiger changed the game overnight when he won in 1997. Gigantic wins in 2001, 2002 and 2005. And after all the adversity on and off the golf course that he’s been through, to come back and win again last year at the age of 43, is something that won’t be forgotten.
“Those four people have been so important to the Masters. They have been such a massive part of the history and the mystique of the tournament and just the way the tournament is seen around the world. It’s one of those events that transcends its sport. It’s known by people that don’t play golf, and those four guys have a lot to do with that.”
“I think Tiger’s given exposure not only to the Masters but to golf worldwide,” he said. “There is not one person who doesn’t know who he is or what he’s done. Part of that is the time he’s playing in. There’s social media, there’s more TV that reached everywhere in the world. When Jack and Arnie played, there wasn’t as much TV coverage and for a while they showed just nine holes. Now everyone wants to see Tiger Woods, and there might not be as much of the worldwide interest if it wasn’t for Tiger.
“He didn’t put the Masters or Augusta National on the map, but he’s made it bigger than life.”
The first Masters Woods watched on television was in 1986 when he was 10. Nicklaus’ records were taped to his bedroom wall, but to see the Golden Bear and Augusta National changed Woods.
On the screen was the Golden Bear storming out of hibernation and toppling some of the game’s best with a back nine for the ages, a 6-under 30 to win his sixth green jacket by one shot over Greg Norman and Tom Kite.
“I can tell you that ’86 meant a lot to me because that was the first memory that I have of the Masters, seeing Jack celebrate the 4-iron into the green on 15,” Woods said of Nicklaus’ eagle on the 15th. “When he did that, I had never seen anybody celebrate an iron shot into a green before. That’s a moment that stuck with me.
“Then I remember seeing him hug Jackie (Nicklaus, who caddied for his father that week) there on 18, how special that was.”
Woods’ first trip to Augusta National was just as memorable. He was a skinny lad of 19 in 1995 when he rolled down Magnolia Lane for the first time. He had spent the day playing in a college tournament and then traveling to the annual site of the first major championship of the season. And he was in a bit of a fog.
He was there as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and made his way up to the Crow’s Nest atop the clubhouse, the historic accommodations for select amateurs during the Masters. But Woods was hungry at that late hour and went in search of food, getting lost in a maze of thin hallways, staircases and more doors than he cares to remember. Trying to retrace his steps back to the Crow’s Nest, he instead emerged from the dark into the Champions Locker Room.
“Oops,” he recalled thinking.
A few days later, Woods was feeling a bit lost on the first hole he played in the Masters. Paired with reigning champion Jose Maria Olazabal, Woods eyed a birdie putt after two well-struck shots on No. 1. Then he putted the ball off the green.
“Chipped back up there and made the putt for bogey, and that was one of the most embarrassing moments that I can ever remember,” Woods said.
The rest of the week went much better. With rounds of 72-72, he was the lone amateur to make the cut. Weekend rounds of 77-72 left him in a tie for 41st.
It was a magical week at an enchanted place that instantly took hold of Woods.
“I said that week that it was like Disney World and Fantasyland, something like that, wrapped together, and it’s true,” Woods said. “I loved the golf course the first time I saw it. The history, the beauty, the challenge of the course. It is such a great place. It was my first time, and I’ll never forget it.”
The following year, after winning the U.S. Amateur a second time, Woods missed the cut in the Masters with rounds of 75-75. But Woods was put on notice that year by none other than Nicklaus, who played a practice round and then the Par-3 Contest with Palmer and Woods. Later in his annual press conference, Nicklaus revealed how bullish he and Palmer were on Woods’ future.
“Both Arnold and I agree that you could take my Masters and his Masters and add them together and this kid should win more than that,” Nicklaus said.
Together, the two icons won 10 Masters.
“This kid is the most fundamentally sound golfer I’ve ever seen at any age,” Nicklaus said. “I don’t know if he’s ready to win yet or not, but he will be the favorite here for the next 20 years. If he isn’t, there’s something wrong.”
The following year Woods earned a permanent place in the Champions Locker Room.
Woods changed the face of golf with his historic victory in 1997, becoming the first Black golfer – he’s also half Thai – to slip on the green jacket.
He also changed the look of Augusta National Golf Club.
En route to winning by an astounding 12 strokes, he bludgeoned the course. Alarm bells rang loud as Woods hit wedges into the par-5 15th for his second shot. He reached the green in two at the par-5 second with a 9-iron. The longest iron he hit into a par 4 all week was a 7-iron.
Augusta National has constantly evolved, but Woods accelerated the pace. In 1999, two holes were lengthened and a secondary cut of rough was added. In 2002, nine holes were lengthened – adding 285 yards – and changes were made to many fairway and greenside bunkers. In 2006, tee boxes on six holes were moved back. Throughout the years, many trees were added, especially down the right side of the 11th and 17th holes and on both sides of the 15th. In 2019, a new tee on the fifth added 40 yards to the hole, stretching the par 4 to 490 yards.
In Woods’ first Masters, the course was 6,925 yards from first tee to 18th green. Its current distance rests at 7,475 yards.
“Augusta National has been at the forefront of trying to keep it competitive, keep it fair, keep it fun, and they have been at the forefront of lengthening the golf course,” Woods said. “Granted, they have the property; they can do virtually whatever they want. Complete autonomy. It’s kind of nice. But also, they have been at the forefront of trying to keep it exciting. As the game has evolved, we have gotten longer, equipment’s changed, and they are trying to keep it so that the winning score is right around that 12- to 18-under-par mark, and they have.”
Zach Johnson, who famously won the 2007 Masters without once going for a par 5 in two, has been startled by the changes over the years.
“All of those changes, which led to the term Tiger-proofed, were because of what he did in 1997,” Johnson said. “Many of the changes came before the 2002 event. Tiger had won in 1997 and 2001. Well, he won three more after the changes. And he’s still going.”
Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, who is a green jacket shy of completing the career Grand Slam, remains surprised to this day about the changes.
“Everyone knows what he did in the 1997 Masters. He made the place look like a pitch-and-putt,” McIlroy said. “Wedge into 15, sand wedge into 18. It was ridiculous. And then in the 2000s they Tiger-proofed the golf course and I never understood why. Why would you do that? Because why wouldn’t you want Tiger Woods to win your golf tournament? It’s the dumbest thing ever. Why are you trying to inhibit the greatest golfer ever from winning your tournament?”
A whole bunch of Tiger wannabes emerged when Woods started to rule the game. McIlroy remembers all the late nights, long after the sun set at his Northern Ireland home, that he sat in front of the TV and watched Woods. He had already been captivated by golf, but seeing Woods on the black-and-white cranked up his love for the game a few notches.
McIlroy grew up in a blue-collar family, his mother working two jobs, his father three at times. Any money left over after necessities usually went toward their son’s love for golf. With each passing year as he ascended the amateur ranks, McIlroy knew golf was his calling.
“Tiger made me hit more golf balls,” McIlroy said. “What he did in the 1997 Masters made me hit more balls. He made me practice more. He made me dream. I saw him and I knew what I wanted to do. And I did everything I could to do that.”
Jason Day was equally moved by Woods.
Growing up in Australia, Day had to wake at 3 a.m. to catch Woods on the TV. What he saw changed his life.
“I watched him win in 1997 and that’s when I knew I wanted to go out and play golf every day and do everything I could to play golf for a living,” the 2015 PGA Championship winner said. “He really got me into the game with the 1997 Masters. He made me wake up and hit golf balls, made me work harder.”
The 1997 Masters made Tony Finau pick up the game. It was the first tournament Finau ever watched. He was 7. A few weeks later, he began playing the game.
“That’s how much Tiger meant to me,” Finau said. “He was a huge inspiration and influence on me. I saw him fist pumping. He was so cool. And I’d read about him and watch him and hear interviews and I learned how to fight, how to work hard.
“I looked at him and I started thinking I could do that.”
And he did. Last year Finau was in the final group for the final round of the Masters alongside Woods and Francesco Molinari.
“Playing with Tiger was extremely special. I dreamed about it as a kid, being in the final group with him at the Masters or any major,” said Finau, who tied for fifth. “And I had my crack at it last year. It was special. I went to the first tee knowing I was playing well and had a chance at the green jacket, and Tiger was Tiger and he ended up winning.”
Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka put away his baseball bats and glove and picked up golf clubs when he started watching Woods on TV.
“The only reason I’m playing golf is because Tiger made the game cool,” said Koepka, who held off Woods to win the 2018 PGA Championship and tied for second behind Woods in last year’s Masters. “Seeing him do what he did when I was growing up, how he dominated the game, how he made it cool for anyone to play, how cool he was, that made me want that. Growing up you want to be the best and you want to play the best and I do that now because of Tiger.”
The 2005 Masters did it for Jordan Spieth.
He was 11 at the time and Woods was surveying the trouble in front of him on the 16th hole in the final round. With a one-shot lead and three holes to play, the best player on the planet had a mess on his hands.
His tee shot had sailed over the green, coming to rest against the collar of the rough well below the putting surface. Fifty feet from the hole, Woods had to aim his shot away from the hole, clip the ball perfectly for the desired spin and make it take a right-hand turn off the ridge and not have it run off the lightning-fast green.
Bogey or worse was far more likely than a par. But the chip was pure, the right-hand turn was seamless and the ball trickled toward the hole. Then the Nike swoosh hung on the lip for almost two seconds before disappearing into the hole.
One of the most memorable shots in golf’s history led to Woods’ fourth green jacket and put Spieth on a career path.
“I was just starting to really pick golf as my No. 1 sport and fall in love with it. That cemented it for me,” Spieth said. “It made me want to literally walk outside and for hours on end practice chipping. It made me want to go and hit those chip-spinners because I always loved hitting those, and I was just starting to develop those at that age. Not off the back of the collar of the rough, on dicey greens, under pressure, but seeing that shot sent me outside to practice and practice.”
Ten years later Woods was back on the 16th green with Spieth by his side during a practice round ahead of the 2015 Masters. Ben Crenshaw was in the group, and Spieth was soaking in as much as he could from the Masters champions. As is his custom, Spieth took one last look at the putting surface before leaving for the next hole. This time, he saw Woods hitting putts from the back part of the green to the customary Sunday pin. Spieth noticed the putt broke much more than he expected and jotted down the data.
Sure enough, Spieth had the same putt for par in the final round, a nasty 10-footer that was extremely fast. He buried the putt to stay four up with two to play and won his first major two holes later.
“I would have played it lower if I hadn’t watched Tiger hit all those putts,” Spieth said. “It was a big moment. To me, that par putt sealed the deal.”
Chalk up another significant Masters moment for Woods.
In 2007 on a bitterly cold Easter Sunday, Zach Johnson found himself in a surreal place. As he has often said, he’s just a normal guy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a common man of deep faith who tempers his roll and isn’t supposed to topple giants. On that day, however, he got the better of the colossal that was Woods.
In the final round, Johnson was two groups ahead of Woods, who was in the final group and in an excellent spot to win a third consecutive major and fifth green jacket. But with three clutch birdies on the back nine, including his last one on the 16th, Johnson held off Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini by two.
“Just knowing that I won the Masters, a major championship, but to do it in the Tiger Woods era, when he was literally dominating the game, yes, that adds some serious gravity to the victory,” Johnson said. “It’s heavy. And rewarding. He’s Tiger and I won that day. That will never leave me.”
Johnson said the reverence for Woods is very deep at Augusta National and in the chapters of the Masters. Right up there with Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and very few others, Johnson said. They have all left lasting impressions on the Masters.
“What I would say, and I think Tiger would agree, just like the game of golf, the Masters is the Masters and no one is above it,” Johnson said. “The magnitude of what that tournament is, and it gets bigger and better every year, is so impressive.
“Tiger just adds to the enormous scale of the event, as much as anyone ever has.”
Trevor Immelman shares the feeling. As did Johnson, Immelman held off Woods down the stretch to claim his lone major championship in the 2008 Masters. Immelman built a two-stroke lead after 54 holes with rounds of 68-68-69; Woods lurked six shots back. Woods never got closer than four until a final-hole birdie left him three behind in second place.
Slipping on the green jacket was a life-changer for Immelman. Doing it at the expense of Woods made it even better. Immelman was a top amateur when Woods turned pro. Three years later he started competing against Woods.
“Tiger changed the game, changed the face of the game, changed how the game was viewed by so many people,” Immelman said. “His win in the Masters in ’97 was off the charts and then he goes on that historic run in 2000 when he wins all those majors and all those tournaments and he sets records, and now I’m competing alongside him.
“The reverence and the appreciation and the respect that I had for his game and his skill and his mental capacity and all those intangibles we may never see again, was massive. On a golf course he was so dominant on, for me to be able to stay ahead of him to win the Masters was fantastic. It’s hard for me to find the right word for that. Winning the Masters is a career-defining moment and one that is beyond what you can come up with in your dreams, but to have a player of Tiger’s caliber to finish second, to be able to hold him off, makes it that little bit more special.”
When Woods showed up in the Bahamas for the 2017 Hero World Challenge, it was hard to believe he was a broken man just six months prior, when on the night of May 29, he was arrested for driving under the influence when officers found him unconscious at the wheel of his running car 15 miles from his Florida home.
A toxicology report showed he had five different drugs in his system, which later led to Woods acknowledging he had become addicted to prescription drugs. His once impeccable Madison Avenue image took another body blow, and he was still unsure if he’d ever play professional golf again.
But Woods dug himself out of the abyss.
“I’ve come out the other side and I feel fantastic,” Woods said at the Hero World Challenge. “A lot of friends have helped me. I didn’t realize how bad my back was. Now that I’m feeling the way I’m feeling, it’s just hard to imagine that I was living the way I was living with my foot not working, my leg not working, and then the hours of not being able to sleep at all because of the pain.”
Six months after his DUI, Woods was healthy, happy and in form as he tied for ninth. The following year, he continued his remarkable return to the game by playing 19 times and contending in the final two majors of the year – he took the lead with eight holes to play in the 2018 British Open before tying for sixth, then finished runner-up to Brooks Koepka in the PGA Championship.
Six weeks later, he won the Tour Championship, his first victory since 2013.
His form carried into the next year and to Augusta National. In 2019 he came into the Masters off five solid starts, his fifth being a quarterfinal loss in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. When he headed to Georgia, he was one confident man.
“I just felt so prepared coming into the event,” he said. “My finishes don’t really reflect it, but I was starting to shape the golf ball the way that I know I can. And everything came together. I kept doing all the little things correctly. Missed the ball in the correct spots time and time and time again, and if I was out of position, so be it, take my bogey and move on. I had no doubles. Just kept plodding along.”
After rounds of 70-68-67, Woods stood two shots out of the lead with 18 to play. Tee times were moved up because of impending thunderstorms, which necessitated a two-tee start and players going off in threesomes. Woods teed off just before 9:30 a.m. ET. He was grouped in the final round with Molinari, who won the 2018 British Open, and Finau.
“It was very different,” Woods said. “I hadn’t won in a long time there. I’ve been in contention numerous times to have gotten it done, but I haven’t. And just the way it played out. I mean, it was so different as a whole.”
After bogeys on 4 and 5, Woods, who was trying to win a major for the first time after not having at least a share of the lead after 54 holes, was three shots behind Molinari. Woods rebounded with birdies on 7 and 8 and made par on the ninth with a ridiculous two-putt from the top tier to the lower tier, the ball traveling 65 feet to tap-in range.
And then came the 12th hole.
Molinari opened Pandora’s Box, Woods said, when he dumped his tee shot into Rae’s Creek. So, too, did Finau and Koepka and Ian Poulter in the penultimate group. Woods found the green and secured his par with a two-putt from long range.
Just like that, Woods was tied for the lead.
He birdied 13 and then 15, which gave him the outright lead for the first time. Then he nearly aced the 16th and his 2-footer for birdie extended his lead to 2. He hit his best drive on the 17th to set up an easy par and played safe on the 18th, with his bogey earning him a 1-shot victory.
He thrust both arms to the sky to begin his celebration of his first Masters victory since 2005 and his first major – his 15th – since he won the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg and torn knee ligaments. With a closing 70 he won by a shot over Dustin Johnson, Koepka and Xander Schauffele. At 43 he became the second oldest to win the Masters, trailing just Nicklaus.
In 1997, his father, Earl, who passed in 2006, greeted Woods as he walked off the 18th hole, and a picture of their hug was called the “best shot” of the tournament by President Bill Clinton at the time. This time, the first person to greet Woods was his son, Charlie, and video of their hug went viral. Then Woods hugged his daughter, Sam, then his mother, Kultida, and then a few others from his team.
“For (my kids) to see what it’s like to have their dad win a major championship, I hope that’s something they will never forget,” he said. “I think the kids are starting to understand how much this game means to me, and some of the things I’ve done in the game; prior to the comeback, they only knew that golf caused me a lot of pain.
“If I tried to swing a club, I would be on the ground and I struggled for years, and that’s basically all they remember. Luckily I’ve had the procedure where that’s no longer the case and I can do this again. So, you know, we’re creating new memories for them, and it’s just very special.
“I just can’t say enough how much that meant to me throughout my struggles when I really just had a hard time moving around. Just their infectiousness of happiness. Just to have them there, and then now to have them see their Pops win, just like my Pops saw me win here, it’s pretty special.”
Woods walked with his family to the clubhouse, about 150 yards or so, with fans sending chants of “Ti-ger, Ti-ger, Ti-ger,” whistling through the pines. After he signed his scorecard to put the official touch on the victory, many of his colleagues were there to congratulate him, including Masters champions Bernhard Langer, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott and Craig Stadler, as well as Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Schauffele, Poulter and Koepka.
“Seeing the amount of reactions and the amount of people that were riveted by the Masters, the amount of emotion that people were showing, that’s what blew my mind,” Woods said. “I didn’t think that that many people were going to be moved that way. I was just trying to win the event and do something I’ve never done before, which is come from behind in a major championship and win.
“The whole tournament has meant so much to me over the years. Coming here in ’95 for the first time, winning in ’97, and then come full circle, 22 years later, to be able to do it again. (Augusta National) has meant so much to me and my family, this tournament, and to have everyone here, it’s something I’ll never, ever forget.”
Woods’ Masters championship reign was extended seven months because of the postponement of the Masters from April to November due to COVID-19. Instead of preparing to defend his title at Augusta National in April, Woods, wearing his green jacket, held his own Champions Dinner at his palatial estate in south Florida with his girlfriend, Erica, and two children.
Cupcakes were the main entrée and Woods was wise enough to put the green jacket in a safe place before a food fight broke out.
Woods also brought out the most famous garment in sports a month later in a promo video for The Match: Champions for Charity that featured Woods, Phil Mickelson and NFL icons Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
After Mickelson zinged Woods by showing off a photo of Woods helping Mickelson put on the green jacket after winning the 2006 Masters, Woods slipped the actual green jacket over himself like a blanket.
“It’s a bit chilly,” Woods said.
Woods got the last laugh in The Match, too, as he teamed with Manning to defeat Mickelson and Brady, 1 up, in the match-play duel.
That’s been Woods’ only success on the golf course in 2020. The coronavirus threw everything off kilter, and Woods has struggled to regain the form that led to his victories the year prior in the Masters and Zozo Championship in Japan.
Woods played just twice before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the PGA Tour and the world in March. He tied for ninth in the Farmers Insurance Open and finished last in the Genesis Invitational as he struggled with back stiffness. Then he skipped a few tournaments, including the Players Championship, in the spring.
Since returning to the game, his best finish among five starts was a tie for 37th in the PGA Championship. He missed the cut in the U.S. Open.
Woods, however, hoped to regain his form as he defended his title in the Zozo Championship on Oct. 22-25 (the tournament was moved from Japan to Sherwood Country Club north of Los Angeles) and then the Masters in November.
“It’s been a very awkward year for all of us, with the virus and not having to play,” Woods said at the BMW Championship. “The majors moved around, question mark on if we’re going to play the (PGA) Tour, when we’re going to play the Tour, guys testing positive. I think a difficult year and difficult season for anyone involved in the sport of golf. But we’re certainly coming out on the positive side.
“This year was certainly one that I don’t think any of us will ever forget.”
Woods still has time to change his 2020 narrative. He’s been doubted before, dismissed many times. But when he shows up for the Masters, he’ll truly believe he has a chance to win a sixth green jacket. And he won’t be the only one with that belief.
“I was in complete awe standing there when he won,” the 2019 Masters, Zach Johnson said. “Sure, 100 percent, we could see it again.
“Because he’s Tiger Woods.”