A knee surgery, four back surgeries, a sex scandal, a chipped tooth, an arrest, a prescription drug problem, no swing, the chipping yips, and a sliding cop. That’s a partial list of what’s occurred in Tiger Woods’ life since he last won a major at the 2008 U.S. Open. He’s 43 years old now. And he just won the Masters for the first time in 14 years, his 15th career major victory. You choose the hyperbole of where this achievement ranks in Masters history, golf history, and sports history. But it’s pretty high in all of those!
I did not think he would win heading into Sunday, where play was moved up to the morning to beat afternoon thunderstorms. He’d never won a major without having at least a share of the third-round lead, and he trailed the third-round leader, Francesco Molinari, by two strokes. Molinari, the reigning British Open champion, played the first three rounds like the best player in the world, making only one bogey over 54 holes. And Brooks Koepka, the reigning U.S. Open and PGA Championship winner, trailed Tiger by only one shot entering Sunday. Molinari and Koepka had faced runs from Woods in the previous two major championships and successfully stiff-armed him away. They were not scared of him.
Woods’ early-round play on Sunday, as it had been all week, was dicey. He bogeyed the monstrous par-4 fifth hole for the fourth straight day.* He missed a couple putts from inside 10 feet. Molinari hit a fair share of uncharacteristically sloppy shots, but he always found a way to recover.
And then the par-3 12th hole happened. Both Molinari and Tony Finau, the third member of the final group, went for the hole and lost their tee shots into the water. Both made double bogey. Koepka, playing in the group ahead, had also put it in the water on 12 for a double bogey. This is the classic Augusta mistake, and Tiger’s main competitors fell for it. Woods, meanwhile, parked his shot in the middle of the green, about 50 feet away, for a two-putt and a share of the lead.
Molinari and Woods held each other in sight until the 15th, a par 5 protected in front by water. Tiger, from about 230 yards, put his second shot in the middle of the green—this was one of many moments during Sunday’s final round where I exhaled deeply after dangerously intermittent breathing over the course of several minutes—and two-putted for birdie. Molinari chunked his third into the water and was done. Woods had the lead to himself.
Then, on the par-3 16th, he dropped the dagger. Aside from the 18th hole celebration, this is the moment we’ll remember from the tournament.
Koepka, who recovered well from his 12th hole debacle, was Tiger’s last obstacle. When his birdie putt on 18 missed low, though, Tiger got to walk down the final fairway with a two-stroke lead. He chipped it up and tapped in for a bogey to win by one.
The scene, when he tapped in the last putt, was indescribable.
Woods was asked after his round where this win ranked among all of his 81 PGA Tour wins and 15 major championships. Is it better than the 1997 Masters, his first major? The 2000 U.S. Open, where he won by 15, in what’s generally considered the greatest four-day performance in the sport’s history? The 2008 U.S. Open, which he won on the 91st hole with one functioning leg?
“It’s gotta be up there, right?” he said.
Right. Maybe even at the top.
Correction: This story misstated par on the fifth hole. It’s a par 4, not a par 5.