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THOMPSON: Tiger Woods' 'Oh so, sweet' comeback

April 15, 2019 - 12:14 PM

 


OPINION


In July of 1973 - halfway through the Major League Baseball season - the New York Mets were dead last in the National League East. When a reporter asked Mets manager and baseball legend Yogi Berra whether his team - 12 games behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs - was out of it, he replied without looking up from the dugout steps…“It’s not over ’til it’s over.” Two and a half months later, Yogi's Mets won the National League pennant by two games.

Yogi’s infinite wisdom could not predict that 46 years later a man swinging a golf club - not a Louisville Slugger - would provide ultimate proof of his truth…that comebacks are one of the sweetest aspects of life.

The man swinging the golf club, of course, was Tiger Woods…and yesterday he completed one of the greatest comebacks in sports…and maybe in life. I - like millions of golfers worldwide - have admired Tiger’s talent since he was national amateur champion in 1996.

READ MORE: THOMPSON: Tiger Woods is a contender again

FILE - In this April 13, 1997, file photo, Masters champion Tiger Woods receives his Green Jacket from last year's winner Nick Faldo, rear, at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. Woods completes an amazing journey by winning the 2019 Masters, overcoming 11 years of personal foibles and professional pain that seemed likely to be his lasting legacy.
FILE - In this April 13, 1997, file photo, Masters champion Tiger Woods receives his Green Jacket from last year's winner Nick Faldo, rear, at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. Woods completes an amazing journey by winning the 2019 Masters, overcoming 11 years of personal foibles and professional pain that seemed likely to be his lasting legacy.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Dave Martin, File

It seems to me - right or wrong - that an individual’s comeback is bigger than a team’s turnaround in a single game or season. That’s saying something because there have been some incredible team comebacks. In 1992, the NFL’s Buffalo Bills were losing to the Houston Oilers 35-3 minutes into the third quarter…with a back-up quarterback they found a way to score 38 points and win 41-38.

And in 2004, the Boston Red Sox - after losing the first three games of the best-of-seven series of the American League Championship to the New York Yankees…won the fourth game in extra innings - then won three in a row to go on to the World Series and win there. Magnificent!

But as great as they are…those are team sports. There’s something more defining of the human spirit…more indicative of character…about an individual’s comeback. I think of boxer George Foreman’s return to the ring ten years after retirement to capture the world heavyweight championship at age 45. Incredible!

I think, too, of tennis star Andre Agassi, who in 1997 battled a failing marriage to Brooke Shields, an almost career-ending wrist injury and addiction to crystal methamphetamine. He went from number one in the world to number 141, before righting the ship and a year later winning another major and returning to the sport’s top three ranking at age 31. Fabulous!

But as of yesterday…nothing more dramatically demonstrates the concept of comeback better than Tiger Woods. Tiger notched his 81st victory on the PGA Tour - one behind Sam Snead’s record of 82 in more than twice as many years - and his 15th major…his fifth Masters win.

Jack Nicklaus has 18 majors. I believe Tiger - now age 43 - will eclipse both Snead’s and Nicklaus’ records in the next few years.

It had been 11 years since Tiger’s last win at a major…14 years since donning a Green Jacket at Augusta. That all ended Sunday…and anyone who witnessed the joy on Tiger’s face knew it. It was redemption…it was elevating…it was thrilling and it was bigger than sport.

There were ten golfers who could have won yesterday…all within two strokes of the lead with nine holes to play. But it was Tiger - in true comeback fashion - who played steadily in the last six holes while others failed on one or more holes.

Many - the “Tiger haters” and others that I guess were guilty only of pessimism - considered Woods a has-been at age 33. Tiger lost his All-America image in a public sex scandal, and despite a physique that any athlete would envy, he lost his health.

There were four serious back operations. He endured a two-year layoff from playing any majors and most PGA Tour events. In 2017, when he attended the Champions Dinner - a tradition at Augusta - he could barely walk to the event or sit for the two-hour repast. At times even he thought he might have to give up the game…especially after a DUI arrest 20 months ago from a mix of prescription pain killers, over-the-counter sleeping drugs and medical marijuana.

The back operations and fused vertebrae meant a complete change in a golf swing that had made him the wonder of the PGA Tour. He could - quite simply - do things on a golf course that others - even his fellow professionals - could not do.

Tiger Woods celebrates after he won the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Ga.
Tiger Woods celebrates after he won the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Ga.
Image Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

In true Tiger fashion, he did not allow others - players, news media, friends or foes - to define how or when he would return. He was deliberate…making decisions about recuperation and returning to the PGA Tour…on his terms. Those who witnessed Tiger the past quarter-century know that no one who has ever played the game with more self-awareness. He has always known his capabilities and limits better than his competitors.

So, it did not surprise me or likely anyone who never lost faith in Tiger when his second shot on the par 4 16th hole came to rest a couple feet from the hole. His tap in birdie gave him a two shot lead with two holes left…there would be no denying Tiger.

Maybe it was the crowd’s chant…“Ti-ger, Ti-ger, Ti-ger”…on the 18th green. Maybe it was Tiger’s wide smile or his “Wooooooooo!” as he left the final hole. Maybe it was Tiger hoisting and bear-hugging his ten-year-old son, Charlie, hugging and kissing his 11-year-old daughter, Sam, with more hugs for his mother and steadfast friends. But one thing is sure…it was a great comeback…and oh so sweet.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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