How Masters victory finally allowed Tiger Woods and golf to move on

After the public unravelling and agonising injuries, Woods’ career came to a ‘full circle’ last year at Augusta - and only now can golf truly begin to accept a new era without him at its centre

Tom Kershaw
Thursday 12 November 2020 10:00
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Tiger Woods celebrates Masters victory - 11 years after last major title

The tears formed in the corner of Tiger Woods’s eyes, the salt eroding at the steel as the memories of his unthinkable comeback washed over Augusta. That shuddering pause as he leant over the final putt, when the whole world seemed to shake with awe and the roar that followed; the celebrations with his children where his father once stood, the intense grief flooding back. This time, as Woods addressed the media for the final time before beginning the defence of his Green Jacket, the tears may not have fallen, but the gravity of what he achieved on that surreal day last April still weighs so heavily.

In those dizzy, drunken hours that followed, Woods’ victory brought flashbacks to his two decades of dominance, the promise of an era-defining sportsman finally reinheriting his old world. But in the sober light of day, the man who sat atop the throne - greying, frailer, uncharacteristically sentimental - is so far removed from the emotionless juggernaut who began rewriting its foundations at Augusta in 1997. “Last year was more emotional,” he said. “To come full circle from being with my dad, to see my son there and to share the same embrace.”

At one stage, after three failed back surgeries, Woods was left in such excruciating and constant pain that he could hardly imagine walking. When he was finally able to swing a golf club again - a feat that was described as “like winning the lottery” in itself - he keeled over in the garden while attempting a flop shot and writhed in agony until he could no longer move. And so one of the greatest athletes in history simply laid there, stripped of all his powers, dependant totally on others for rescue. 

To understand this new version of Woods - how the warmth is invading the cold, how there’s a meaning and emotion beyond just success - you have to remember that at the beginning of the arduous process of rebuilding himself piece-by-piece, in public and private, he would have given away everything just to be able to sit up. 

Read more: The Masters 2020 tee times: Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy set to start at Augusta

For spectators, Woods’ 15th major completed a resurrection story. To him, though, it was a release, exorcising those years of anguish and frustration, the sordid unravelling and betrayal of his body, the fear that his future could only exist in the past. In reaching the pinnacle again, Woods finally brought a sense of peace to the fires that fuelled his years of dominance and endured during his absence. “Pretty good bookends,” he said nostalgically this week. It was not an admission of surrender but acceptance. Woods “still expects to contend this week,” but his world no longer orbits around it.

And while victory provided Woods with closure, in a sense, it has allowed golf to move on, too. The realisation that, even at his peak, he can never be the same person who won in cold blood and at all costs to such fanfare. Whereas the sport once depended on him so feverishly, regardless of being his indestructible best or disintegrated worst, there is an appreciation for whatever remains, and perhaps finally a readiness to embrace what will follow. 

And as fate would happen, perhaps for the first time since Woods’ orthodoxy shattering win in ’97, golf does now has a new tour de force in waiting. In Woods’ absence, the likes of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka all wrestled for control in immensely successful, albeit shorter cycles. But for all their brilliance, they were never able to silence the yearning for Woods’ return.

Read more: The Masters 2020 betting tips: Who is favourite to win at Augusta?

Tiger Woods celebrates hist Masters victory in 2019

Bryson DeChambeau, who counts Woods as a friend and idol, has already altered what’s deemed possible with his long-driving and meticulous use of technology. He is changing the way golf is thought about and how its next generation are being coached, even if he only won his first major in June. He and Woods may thrive on polarising approaches, but no one player has had such a defining impact since. “What Bryson has done has been absolutely incredible, and we have all been amazed at what he’s been able to do in such a short span of time. It’s never been done before,” Woods said.

For Woods, Augusta will always be the place where his historic career exploded into life. Whether it saw the last of its fireworks, only time will tell. But the unforgettable joy and relief of coming to a “full circle” last year finally satisfied him and the sport he commanded for so long. And now, for the first time in a generation, golf may finally be ready to move forwards without always looking back.

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