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How Tiger Woods went from serial winner to a likeable underdog

How Tiger Woods went from serial winner to a likeable underdog

Adulation has followed Tiger Woods’ triumph at the 2019 Masters, but the American has been required to undergo a 674-day transformation to achieve a fifth green jacket.

Tiger Woods has spent over a decade being required to find solutions to a wide range of setbacks – some of which have been his own doing – but when a mugshot of the American circulated on May 29, 2017 after being arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, it felt like the end. This was not just your run-of-the-mill person facing the possibility of a stint in jail; this was one of the world’s greatest sportsmen looking dishevelled and staring aimlessly into the abyss. A failed comeback at the start of that year and the pain from the surgery which followed had left Woods without a competitive purpose, but the felony committed close to his Jupiter home effectively acted as the catalyst for Woods to go from a serial achiever to an underdog who has become backed on a scale previously thought unimaginable.

Moments like we have all witnessed at The Masters over the past few days were simply not supposed to happen. Woods had initially been satisfied with returning to the PGA Tour at the start of 2018, playing a competitive standard of golf and enjoying the camaraderie with his peers. The Woods of old was focused on maintaining the aura of an unflappable juggernaut, but the hours spent isolated and in pain behind the scenes have led to the 43-year-old becoming more appreciative of interaction with people who he can call both his friends and rivals. Perspectives have been changed and egos have been left bruised, but the end result is a likeable monster who continues to take golf to new levels.

© Reuters

Woods’ success at Augusta has been celebrated around the world, but the wheels have been in motion since he tied for second at last year’s Valspar Championship. A monster putt at the penultimate hole wasn’t enough to achieve victory on that occasion, but it opened the door for people to emotionally invest themselves in Tiger’s journey. The seemingly impossible was starting to feel possible, and the days of wanting change at the top of the leaderboard had come full circle. There was a global appetite for a once ruthless finisher to not only relive his glory days, but further cement a legacy which will remain untouchable.

The Tour Championship win at East Lake in September ensured that everything continued to move in an upward trajectory, but it only left everyone – including Tiger – craving more. Completing another piece of the puzzle was bringing more belief, but it was also raising expectations. The end of the season had arguably come at the wrong time for Woods but it provided him with a much-needed period out of the spotlight, while having the downtime which he probably required to get back to enjoying family life. He also needed an opportunity to reassess his goals in the sport because they had changed dramatically within the space of nine months. It’s easy to forget that Woods had previously been selected as a non-playing member of the US Ryder Cup Team before showing any signs of a resurgence.

Tiger Woods wearing the green jacket after winning The Masters in April, 2019.© Reuters

His fifth green jacket did not arrive without many moments of good fortune. Several wayward tee shots were rewarded rather than penalised, rivals made untimely mistakes in the heat of battle and a security guard narrowly avoided being made infamous late during the second round. Nevertheless, for all the nagging doubts, fitness concerns and higher standards, there was an inevitability about another Woods triumph. He has made a habit of speaking openly to the media, but that honesty has recently been complemented by confidence. That wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by his rivals and once those roars began to emanate around the back nine at Augusta on Sunday, they knew the score.

One of the moments of the tournament came on the 16th as Woods almost registered a hole-in-one. Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter broke concentration on the 17th tee box in order to watch the ball roll towards the hole with Poulter – widely known for his competitive edge – later admitting ‘how cool’ it had been for Woods to win. Tough, steely exteriors were being overidden by soft interiors rising to the surface. Woods has mellowed over time and has become more like “one of the guys”, but that’s not to say that he does not command respect like no other of his era.

Woods will take weeks and months to fully appreciate what he achieved last week, but there will eventually be an acknowledgement that he will never eclipse what he experienced after holing his final putt. Emotion poured out in the public domain like never before, and the unfiltered reaction highlighted that Woods never took another win of his magnitude for granted. The scenes at the conclusion of what has been a 674-day road to redemption are usually restricted to the big screen but like the sequels which tend to follow, they rarely top the original.

Tiger Woods celebrates winning the Masters on April 14, 2019

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