Where were you when Tiger won the 2019 Masters?
April 14, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. – They stood in front of the scoring area, some wearing their green jackets, others still hoping to one day. A seemingly endless tunnel of fans stretched out before them – 10, maybe 15 deep on either side, thousands in all, each just hoping for a glimpse. Each just thankful to have witnessed something we all worried might never happen again.
Finally, Tiger Woods appeared, striding through the masses, still a bit in shock, his game face slowly transforming into celebration mode. A few steps from scoring, the congratulations began in earnest.
Some players he had just conquered – Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele, among them – offered up warm hugs. Bubba Watson, one of the past champs in green, couldn’t stop talking when Tiger approached. Ian Poulter was close to the door leading into the building where Tiger would sign his winning scorecard. He waited patiently, then in a show of respect, took his cap off as he shook Tiger’s hand.
Among the past champs welcoming Tiger back into the fold, Zach Johnson struggled to offer a perspective. The moment was still raw, still fresh. “Hard to put into words right now because of the history,” Johnson said. Another Masters champ, Trevor Immelman, simply added, “It’s the greatest comeback in the history of sports.”
Comeback. That seemed to be the operative word Sunday as Woods – after 11 long, frustrating, challenging years that took him to the depths of professional and personal despair – resumed his career as a major winner. That he did it for the first time as a 54-hole chaser rather than a leader also hammered home the point.
That he did it at Augusta National – where he shocked the golf world with a 12-stroke win for his first major in 1997 – also seemed fitting. It was in 1986 that a 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus rolled back time to win his last major, his 4-iron into the par-5 15th making an indelible impact on a 10-year-old Tiger watching from afar in California.
“I had never seen anybody celebrate an iron shot into a green before,” Woods said. “That’s a moment that stuck with me.”
It was Jack’s 18th major. In 2008, Tiger won his 14th major on one leg, going 91 holes at the U.S. Open before finally subduing Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines. Woods was just 32 years old at the time, and it seemed like a fait accompli that he would one day pass Nicklaus on the all-time major wins list. But then the bottom fell out, and the injuries mounted up. Four surgeries on his knee. Four surgeries on his back.
The years passed and the questions grew. Would Tiger ever win another Masters? Another major? Then, would Tiger ever win again? Finally, would Tiger ever play again?
It didn’t seem likely back in 2017 when he arrived at Augusta National for the Champions Dinner held each Tuesday of Masters week. He needed a nerve blocker just to walk into the clubhouse and sit upright for a few hours. The banter was light, as usual, but Tiger was physically uncomfortable.
That night, he hopped on a plane to England and met some specialists, who examined his back and came up with a solution: Spinal fusion surgery. Hard news to swallow but the right call. Tiger flew to Texas for the procedure, worried more about the ability to play with his kids than to play with his peers. He just wanted to drive them to school, take them to practice, watch their games.
His career wasn’t just at a crossroads. It was over. “I was done at that particular time,” he said. “… Golf was not in my near future – or even the distant future.”
Surgery, though, gave him his life back. Then he got his golf back. He started putting. Started chipping. Started hitting drivers. The first one went 90 yards. He was apprehensive about just how hard he could swing, but this is Tiger. His level of determination, of hard work, would not be denied. Champions simply do not quit. Golf’s best simply does not quit.
The competitive fires started to burn at the 2017 Presidents Cup. He was one of the assistant captains on the winning U.S. team at Liberty National. He was hanging out with the kids who wanted to step into the throne he had vacated. Sorry, he silently thought. Not so fast.
Then the 2018 TOUR Championship, his first PGA TOUR win in five years and the 80th of his career. It wasn’t just victory, though. It was vindication. He could still compete. He could still win. He was not done. That was in September.
A month later, he began focusing on the Masters.
“East Lake was a big step for me,” he said. “… That gave me a lot of confidence going into this year, and I said, you know, just keep building on it and let’s try to get the mind and body peaking towards Augusta.”
And so he arrived here supremely confident in his chances. Though he can no longer overpower his opponents like he did in 1997, he can outthink them. That’s how he won this week. He managed and fulfilled his game plan better than anybody else. He took advantage of opportunities provided by good shots, and he avoided disaster on holes that offered no upside.
There were no double-bogeys, no crippling shots like the ones hit by his competitors on Sunday. Francesco Molinari was in control until he found the water at the par-3 12th; Tiger, meanwhile, took the Nicklaus approach of aiming above the bunker, making sure he stayed dry. The door was now wide-open.
In prior major wins, Tiger would intimidate his opponents as the leader. Now he leaned on the advantage of attrition. There was a five-way tie for the lead as Tiger stood on the 15th fairway. Beads of sweat dotted his face, but the demeanor was cool. As long as he matched anybody else’s heroics, he’d win. “Whatever they do,” he told himself, “I’ll just birdie the same holes, then it’s a moot point.”
A birdie at the par-5 15th gave him the outright lead, as Molinari – so stoic, so solid, so unflinching for the first 65 holes of this tournament – found more water. Then he “almost whooped it” at 16 for another birdie. “That gave me the cush,” he said in typical Tiger prose. In other words, he was two up with two to play.
That’s when the inevitable finally seemed to make it way through the towering pines at Augusta National. Was he really going to do this? This was Nicklaus in 1986 all over again. Yes, sir.
And now the chase resumes. Tiger is only one win away from tying Sam Snead’s 82 for most wins on the PGA TOUR. He’s just three majors away from tying Nicklaus. What once seemed obtainable, then seemed forgettable, now seems reachable.
“81, 15,” said Koepka, reciting Tiger’s win totals. “I think 18 is a whole lot closer than people think.”
It won’t be easy. The youngsters who took up golf because of Tiger are now his top competitors. They are not easily intimidated. They will not go away quietly. They want the challenge of preventing him from rewriting history. “Hope I can do something to stop it,” said Justin Thomas, who otherwise reveled in the Tiger win almost like it was his own.
But for one glorious week at Augusta National, on a day that ended hours earlier than the usual Sunday but rewarded us with the re-emergence of an icon, nobody could stop the man in the red mock turtleneck.
Afterwards, he hugged his kids, Sam and Charlie, emotional embraces reminiscent of 1997's win when Tiger hugged his father Earl, then struggling with heart complications. Earl gave Tiger a putting lesson that Wednesday. Tiger's kids -- not even born the last time he won the Masters in 2005 -- simply gave their father inspiration.
"I hope they are proud of me," Tiger said. "I hope they are proud of their dad."
No doubt they are. It was a day to be proud, to be happy, to celebrate, to shed tears of joy. We hoped we'd see this day again. Dreamed about it, really. Now it was here. Said Schauffele, giddy about his tie for second: "We just witnessed history."
So one day -- perhaps this week, perhaps years from now -- you’ll be asked: Where were you when Tiger won the 2019 Masters?
“Well, I know where I was,” Tiger said, that celebration smile finally emerging in full. “I had a little one-foot tap-in.”