AUGUSTA, Ga. — Welcome, friends, to the greatest comeback in sports history.
After all the scandals, all the injuries, all the surgeries, all the drama, all the he’s-done declarations, Tiger Woods has won the Masters. In 2019.
Nearly 11 years after his last major victory — the longest drought in golf history — Woods won the Masters by 1 stroke with a bravura 70 final round, keeping his head while the best of the next generation of golfers lost theirs. Six golfers held at least a share of the lead over the day, five tied with only a handful of holes left. But as it was in 1997, so it was 22 years later: Woods walking off the 18th green to delirious cheers, another green jacket awaiting him — his 15 major win in total.
“Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” the crowd around 18 yelled, a comeback complete.
The win brought an emotion rarely seen from Woods, who threw up his arms in triumph, unable to wipe the smile off his face. A fist pump. A scream. A massive hug from his son Charlie, who wasn’t born the last time Tiger won one of these.
It was total euphoria at Augusta National.
With all due respect to the vast talents of Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari et. al., there are two storylines at every Masters: Tiger Woods, and everyone else. That’s not media bias or wishful thinking, that’s objective reality. Tiger draws the largest and loudest galleries, Tiger pulls in the biggest ratings, Tiger summons cheers at Augusta that don’t sound like anywhere else on earth.
The difference in 2019 as opposed to recent history is this: Woods arrived in Augusta with his first legitimate chance to win in more than half a decade. He’d missed three of the last five due to health reasons, and he’d been irrelevant in the other two. Now, though, he’s as golf-ready as a 43-year-old can be, with another PGA Tour win in his pocket since last year.
Woods remains the biggest story in golf, but not the only story. Koepka is riding a Tiger-esque majors hot streak — two of the last three, three of the last seven — and Molinari has punched Tiger in the face while winning both the British Open and the Ryder Cup over the last nine months.
Thursday began under one of those classic Augusta skies, blue and deep and breezy, with the gallery buzzing and the birdies flying. This was one of those “future of golf” days, where Koepka and mad scientist Bryson DeChambeau took the early lead at -6. Right behind them: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and the usual collection of leaderboard cameos. Molinari and Woods lurked further down the leaderboard at -2.
Then came Friday, which was without question one of the strangest days in recent Masters history. Big names came out firing, and by the day’s end an unprecedented five major winners — Molinari, Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott and Jason Day — shared the lead at -7.
But we expected all that. What we didn’t expect was an enthusiastic security guard becoming part of Masters lore by slipping and sliding right into Woods’ ankle while trying to hold back a vicious Augusta gallery. Woods hobbled for a moment but ended up birdieing the hole, and CBS promptly memory-holed the footage.
Saturday was King Kong, Godzilla and Mothra all elbowing for space, with Tony Finausneaking in there amongst them. Molinari, who once caddied next to Woods at a Masters, put distance between himself and the field with the relentless, mechanical precision of an avalanche. Woods and Koepka kept pace, and Finau snuck in with one of the three 64s on the day.
With ugly weather on the way, Augusta National moved tee times up — way, way up — almost six hours earlier than normal, splitting the field into two and tripling up the pairings. So there wasn’t much time to meditate on what a Masters Sunday with Tiger Woods in sight of the lead might mean to history before the leaders teed off.
Early on, Molinari seemed invincible, running his par streak to 49 holes and, as of the sixth hole, posting a three-stroke lead on the field. Molinari’s dead-eyed stare and clinical perfection — plus the fact that he had history against Woods — seemed to bode well for his chances, and ill for everyone who wanted to see Woods win his first major since 2008.