Bob HarigESPN Senior WriterClose
- Senior golf writer for ESPN.com
- Covered golf for more than 20 years
- Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana University
AUGUSTA, Ga. — The ground shook, and the pine trees swayed and the playground that is Augusta National was his again. Tiger Woods, walking up the 18th fairway, an improbable victory in his sights, barely betraying a hint of emotion, was about to be a major champion.
For the 15th time.
Fourteen years after his last Masters victory, 11 years after capturing what many believed to be his final major championship triumph, Woods is on top of the golf world, capping an unforeseen comeback at one of the most revered places in the game.
A nervy, gutsy 2-under-par 70 that included three birdies over his final six holes was enough to haul down 54-hole leader Francesco Molinari and hold off Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka by 1 stroke.
For the first time in his career, Woods overcame a third-round deficit to win a major, and he set the record for longest time between Masters wins, previously held by Gary Player.
The 43-year-old Woods, who shot 13 under for the tournament, last captured a major title in 2008 at the U.S. Open. He hadn’t won a Masters since 2005.
Woods now has won 15 major championships, second only to Jack Nicklaus‘ 18. When Woods reached 14, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would cruise past the Golden Bear. But personal problems and four back surgeries derailed his momentum.
Now, Woods has his fifth green jacket, again second to Nicklaus’ six. Woods became the second-oldest to win the Masters, again behind Nicklaus who was 46 when he won in 1986.
Nicklaus quickly reacted to Woods’ win on Twitter.
— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) April 14, 2019
It was a stressful, exhausting day, made more so for Woods with an early wake-up call due to impending storms that pushed up tee times more than five hours. With all of his back problems, Woods goes through a lengthy process to get ready to play any competitive round of golf.
But it paled in comparison to the treacherous comeback Woods endured in recent years as he tried to recover from multiple surgeries.
The most recent of those was almost exactly two years ago, just two weeks after Woods attended the annual Champions Dinner at Augusta National, needing a pain-relieving shot just to make the trip.
So frustrated with his situation was Woods that he confided in a few past champions that he thought his career was over, that he’d never play competitive golf again.
“I was done at that particular time,” Woods said earlier this week. “In order to actually come to the dinner, I had to get a nerve block just to be able to walk and come to the dinner.
“It meant so much to me to be part of the Masters and come to the Champions Diner. I didn’t want to miss it. It was tough and uncomfortable. I ended up going to England that night, saw a specialist there; they recommended unfortunately for me the only way to get rid of the pain I was living in was to have the spinal fusion surgery.”
Six months later, he was first allowed to swing a club again, and here he was Sunday, contending for a fifth green jacket and his first major title since the epic playoff victory over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S Open.
Woods began the day in the final group, 2 strokes behind Molinari, the reigning Open champion who fought through a Sunday pairing with the crimson-shirted Woods at Carnoustie to hoist the Claret Jug. He did so without making a bogey.
And it looked very much the same Sunday, as Molinari remarkably ran his streak without a bogey to 49 holes before finally making a couple of mistakes. Schauffele, Koepka, Johnson and Tony Finau were also in the mix, as was Jason Day and Patrick Cantlay. Woods made three bogeys through 10 holes and was 2 strokes back at that point.
But Molinari hitting his tee shot into the water at the 12th changed everything, giving Woods the opening he needed. Woods made a two-putt birdie there, then added birdies at the 13th and 15th holes to take the outright lead on the final day of the Masters for the first time since his last victory here in 2005.
Then came what was perhaps his shot of the tournament, a perfect 8-iron at the par-3 16th — where two aces were made Sunday — that landed perfectly on a slope and trickled down a slope and just sliding by the hole. He made the 4-footer for birdie and a 2-stroke lead.
A perfect drive at the 17th led to an easy par, and then the telling tee shot at the 18th with a 3-wood up the right side put him in position to close out a remarkable victory.