How Tiger Woods Got His Groove Back

15 April 2019
Tiger Woods, Golf, Masters Tournament
Before the final, minor stutter on the 18th hole. Before the emotional walk up to green, cheers ringing in his ears. Before the triumphant short putt had confirmed Tiger Woods had won his fifth masters; this was already being called the greatest sporting comeback of all time.

By the crowds at Augusta, by the experts, by the fans watching history unfold in front of their own eyes on TV or following on social media.

Woods’s first major win in 11 years and first masters in 15, a day on, still seems like a dream.

No one could have dared predict this day would ever come. Not after the troubles that have stalked the 43-year-old Woods over the last decade.

There was a very public divorce and fall from grace. A back injury that not only threatened his career, but left him unable to walk, sit or sleep in comfort. Tiger Woods, it bears repeating, was unable to play golf. He dropped out of the top 1000 players in the world. In 2017 he hit rock bottom when he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Woods, for all intents and purposes, was an ex-golfer.

Then came the slow recovery. The operations, the aborted comebacks. The shoots of recovery, and last September, an 80th PGA win at the season-ending Tour Championship.

And now, a scarcely credible Masters win. His fifth, a 15th major.

Woods had barely had time to put on the Green Jacket again before the debate on whether this was the greatest comeback was in full swing.

Better than 32-year-old Muhammad Ali’s knock-out of George Foreman in the “Rumble In The Jungle”? Or 35-year-old Roger Federer’s Australian Open and Wimbledon wins in 2017 after a Grand Slam drought of five years?

Considering the obstacles he’s had to overcome, few would argue it is.

Golf analyst and Dubai Eye 103.8 presenter Robbie Greenfield talks us through five physical and mental obstacles Woods conquered to return to world domination.

The Injuries

Let's gloss over the time Woods won the US Open with a fractured tibia and had four knee operations. In 2013, he collapsed on the course and so began a debilitating four-year struggle with nerve damage in his lower back. Three microdiscectomies (and numerous comeback attempts) could not alleviate the pain. In 2017, Woods was barely able to attend the champions' dinner at the Masters. On another occasion, his children found him in the back yard, unable to move. Spinal fusion in 2017 was a last resort, and it also proved to be the answer. With his back welded together, Woods lost flexibility, but finally banished the spasms and the nerve pain. And the rest is history.

The Scandals

During Thanksgiving in 2009, Woods and his carefully crafted image fell apart overnight. His numerous infidelities cost him his marriage, and his dignity. The Woods scandal was the first in a new era of rapacious 24-hour news coverage, driven by sites like TMZ and social media. Woods' public mea culpa is one of the cringiest things you will find on the internet. Yet slowly, the golfer rebuilt his life and what's more, he began to connect with his fanbase. When Tiger won in his prime, he was robotic. Last night we saw Tiger humbled, his emotion laid bare for all to see. It was as much about redemption as it was about a comeback.

The Loss of Form

There are many sports more physical than golf, but few that test the mental resolve of the individual so unscrupulously. Bad golf leaves a a mental scar, and Tiger Woods played a lot of bad golf. His injury problems meant he could never practice diligently enough to return to an elite level, and his appearances on the tour between 2014 to 2017 became increasingly ceremonial. He got the chipping yips. His driving was woeful. Even his famed putting deserted him. And his ranking plummeted to the outer margins of golf's universe – at one time he was outside the world's top 1,150.

The Competition

By hitting such heights on the golf course in his pomp, Tiger created a problem for himself. He raised the bar, and the next generation stepped up. In his 20s and early 30s, Woods dominated his peers. Every department of his game was superior, he knew it and they knew it. But now it's a different story. Now 50 guys can win a major, and they all train like Tiger did. Woods wanted golf to gain credence among athletes and he got his wish, because most of the top players now are fine athletes in their own right. Which makes the success of a 43-year-old who had spinal fusion surgery even more remarkable.

The Longevity

Tiger Woods won his first major – the 1997 US Masters – by 12 shots as a 21-year-old. Last night's victory arrives 22 years later, and it takes him to 15 major championships, just three short of the record held by Jack Nicklaus. But it's his first in 11 years. And it's the first time he's won the Masters since 2005, surpassing the previous record of 13 years held by another of the game's legends, Gary Player. As a sport, golf affords greater longevity than more athletic disciplines, but these time frames are nonetheless remarkable. And the story appears far from over just yet.