Tiger Woods' decade remembered: From humbling lows to the 'greatest scene in golf forever'

By Christopher Devine 31 December 2019 12
Tiger Woods' decade remembered: From humbling lows to the 'greatest scene in golf forever'

The 2010s featured an abundance of drama in men's golf, but one triumph stands alone when assessing the most impactful moment of the decade.

A succession of nerve-shredding Ryder Cups, including Europe's astonishing victory in the 'Miracle of Medinah', will continue to live long in the memory of many, while the number of compelling major storylines has been remarkable.

Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Shane Lowry have all found themselves at the centre of thrilling finishes in the biggest events of the past 10 years. You may well fondly remember other stirring denouements.

Golf also made its long-awaited return to the Olympics, yet there can be no doubt Tiger Woods' success at the 2019 Masters tops everything else since the decade began.

In any circumstances, one of the world's most recognisable athletes ending an 11-year drought at the highest level would represent a significant storyline.

Woods' win at Augusta, though, was particularly remarkable due to the dark depths he had plumbed since last winning a major.

At the end of the 2009 PGA Tour season, Woods was the undisputed world number one and, with 14 majors to his name at the age of 33, he appeared highly likely to surpass Jack Nicklaus' record tally of 18.

No one could possibly have predicted the litany of setbacks that would follow, before he finally tasted major glory once again.

Only by reminding ourselves of Woods' pain can we fully appreciate the true enormity of his stunning redemption.

 

AN AURA STRIPPED AWAY

As he racked up win after win after win throughout the 2000s, Woods carried an air of invincibility few have ever attained. Even when he gave up a final-round lead at a major for the first time at the 2009 US PGA Championship, finishing second to the unheralded Y.E. Yang, it felt like no more than a surprising blip.

However, the man with arguably the most intimidating mentality in sport saw his aura shattered around the turn of the decade as a scandal involving his private life snowballed dramatically.

After suffering minor injuries in a car crash outside his home on November 27, 2009, as the first of several lurid allegations of infidelity surfaced, Woods apologised the following week for "letting his family down", adding somewhat vaguely that he regretted his "transgressions".

His first public appearance in the new decade was unforgettable. On February 19, 2010, Woods delivered an astonishing televised mea culpa, in which he revealed he was receiving therapy and solemnly stated: "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to."

Although he returned to compete again within two months, finishing fourth in the Masters, a newly vulnerable Woods - whose divorce from wife Elin Nordegren was confirmed in August - endured his first winless season as a professional on the back of his public humiliation, having claimed 64 titles across the previous 10 years.

 

THE INJURY HELL

Injuries had started to hamper Tiger in the previous decade, most notably when he somehow won the U.S. Open on one leg in 2008, but his fitness deteriorated sharply in the 2010s.

Following a truncated 2011 campaign that saw him drop out of the world's top 50, Woods looked to be back to his own self as he gradually recovered his form and won five PGA Tour events in 2013, reclaiming the number one ranking in the process.

A four-year injury nightmare followed, though, comprising four back surgeries and a succession of tournament withdrawals.

On the few occasions Woods was able to take to the course during this period, it generally made for difficult viewing, the low point coming at the Phoenix Open in February 2015 when he shot a career-worst 82.

Increasing back trouble duly led to a 15-month absence starting in August of that year and when Woods' eventual return was cut short by another setback early in 2017, his future prospects looked bleak.

"The cycle needs to be broken," read an article on Fox Sports. "For the sake of the game and in fairness to his peers, he should see the writing on the wall and formally retire."

 

THE MUG SHOT

Woods underwent his fourth back operation in April 2017 - spinal fusion surgery that appeared to represent a final roll of the dice in terms of restoring him to full fitness.

A month later, he reached a shocking nadir.

After he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence at 3am close to his Jupiter Island home, a startling mugshot of a dishevelled and desolate Woods - together with police footage that showed him in an alarmingly confused state - was swiftly shared around the world.

Alcohol was not involved. Woods instead attributed the incident to an "unexpected reaction to prescribed medications", before later pleading guilty to a charge of reckless driving.

More than seven years on from the car crash that effectively heralded the start of his spectacular fall from grace, another vehicle-related controversy left Woods looking a forlorn and troubled figure. Given his prolonged injury nightmare, it was tough to see how he could compete at the highest level again.

 

THE COMEBACK

In September 2017, a recovering Woods was asked if he could see a scenario in which he did not return to competitive golf.

"Yeah, definitely," replied a man who had fallen out of the world's top 1,000. "I don't know what my future holds for me. As I've told you guys, I'm hitting 60-yard shots."

Twelve months later, at the end of a sensational comeback season in which he had repeatedly challenged for victories and come close in two majors, Woods was able to savour his first triumph since 2013 as he won the Tour Championship amid extraordinary scenes that saw spectators swamp the 18th fairway.

It was a truly special moment, but what followed was even better.

 

'THE GREATEST SCENE IN GOLF FOREVER'

As outstanding as Woods' 2018 was in the context of his previous struggles, one thing was missing. The man who won 14 majors between 1997 and 2008 had still not added to that tally.

That changed on April 14, 2019, as Woods held his nerve superbly to claim a fifth Masters crown and send an expectant crowd into raptures.

CBS commentator Jim Nantz fully appreciated the significance of the moment when Woods tapped in his winning putt on the 18th green. After announcing the champion's "return to glory", Nantz remained silent for two minutes and 42 seconds during the celebrations as deafening roars and shouts of "TIGER, TIGER, TIGER" echoed around Augusta.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Nantz said: "I've done 34 Final Fours, had Super Bowls, Peyton [Manning's] farewell. It's the best event I've ever covered. And I feel very fortunate to have been in that spot.

"There was no way I was going to say anything over those images of Tiger with his family. The chanting was in the background and the scene was rich. I knew instinctively I wanted to sit back and enjoy it. All I could do was ruin it."

When the commentary eventually resumed, co-commentator Nick Faldo - a six-time major-winner who has seen pretty much all there is to see in his sport - declared simply: "That will be the greatest scene in golf forever."

Considering the misery that engulfed Woods for much of the past decade, it is hard to argue.

 

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Christopher Devine

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