Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press
He won’t shoot the lowest score.
And he won’t slide the green jacket on outside Butler Cabin.
But make no mistake, golf fans. Tiger Woods has won the Masters.
Oh, sure, it may be someone else basking in the glow of a Jim Nantz interview come Sunday evening at Augusta National, but this tournament was over just past 11 am ET on Thursday when the greatest talent in the game’s history stepped to the first tee and ripped a drive a few steps short of a fairway bunker.
The roar that erupted minutes later when he drained a 12-footer to save by was a fitting mic drop.
It was a red-shirt flashback from a man in a hot-pink turtleneck.
And before we get much further, let’s make sure we get the vocabulary correct.
Don’t call it a comeback. This is a full-on sports miracle.
Lest anyone think that’s a label that ought to be reserved only for Al Michaels in the Olympics or any time the New York Mets are relevant in October, let’s look at the facts.
The guy hadn’t hit a competitive shot in 508 days—which is nearly 10 years in dog time and probably close to that when referring to a golfer plenty old enough to have sired the current No. 1 player.
But he hadn’t spent those days since November 2020 merely lounging near the Florida coast.
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Rather, he ended that year with a microdiscectomy, which is a back surgery that involves removal of “a portion of the intervertebral disc, the herniated or protruding portion that is compressing the traversing spinal nerve root,” according to USCSpine.com.
It was Woods’ fourth such procedure.
The first three came prior to spinal fusion surgery in 2017.
Oh, spinal fusion surgery, you ask?
That’s just a “welding process,” according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, that “fuse[s] together two or more vertebrae so that they heal into a single, solid bone,” with a goal “to eliminate painful motion or to restore stability to the spine.”
The idea a middle-aged man could get out of bed to make a sandwich after all that, let alone compete with relevance at a course most can’t handle on a video game, would be enough for lofty praise.
But there’s more.
In February 2021, Woods was in a single car-crash in which he suffered fractures to his right tibia and fibula. According to Gavin Newsham of the New York Postsurgeons considered amputating his leg, while the Los Angeles Sheriff Department said he was “fortunate to be alive.”
Ringo HW Chiu/Associated Press
Still, if you’re not one to genuflect simply for cheating mortality and playing hurt, we understand.
In that case, we’ll just focus on the fact that he’ll begin the weekend within nine strokes of leader Scottie Scheffler as all but a smidge of the 972 players ranked ahead of him—including heavy-hitting frenemies Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau —will be watching on CBS.
He’s 46 years old, by the way. Which means Koepka and DeChambeau were six and three, respectively, when he won his first jacket in 1997.
They have five majors between them and zero at Augusta. By the time Woods was Koepka’s age (31), he’d won four Masters and created the still-unparalleled Tiger Slam.
In other words, the resume-comparison game is already a no-contest.
A one-under 71 on Thursday gave way to a two-over 74 on Friday, with his second round on the verge of implosion after four bogeys in the first five holes. But he got one back at No. 8, saved a vital par with a knee-knocking five-foot putt at No. 9 and then hit a brilliant approach within two feet for another birdie at No. 10.
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Augusta’s bosses responded with another roar.
The kind only legends warrant.
“Just look at the reception,” broadcaster Michael Breed said on the Featured Groups livestream at Masters.com. “It’s an appreciation not just for what he’s doing today or yesterday but for what he’s done for years—and for years here at Augusta National.
“We just forget how incredible it is that he’s here. Think of what he went through and how he’s rehabbed. He’s worked as we know he can work, and now they’re following him at Augusta National.”
The aura of his favorite major helped Woods sharpen his focus enough to reach the first tee after 17 months on the sidelines, and it’s hardly a reach to suggest—with roughly another month of recovery time—that he’d at least be within range of serious contention at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he won the Wanamaker Trophy by two shots in 2007.
He earned a pair of points in the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, Massachusetts, which is the site of this year’s US Open in mid-June. And he won the Open Championship twice (2000, 2005) when it was at St. Andrews, where this year’s event will take place from July 14 to 17.
So, prospects for a summer of allegiance at least seem promising based on past performance.
And even with Tiger at 40-1, 50-1 and 40-1, respectively, at DraftKings, who’d be willing to bet that he’s done creating miracles—even with a leg held together by rods, plates, and screws?
“He’s Tiger Woods, so I’m not worried about watching him hit a ball ever because he’s the best player I’ve ever seen play,” Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, told CNN. “He’s won so many times, and he’s just not a guy to go do something mediocre.
“He’ll compete, and he’ll be ready to roll.”
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