Tiger proves obstacles in life can be overcome

Published 7:00 pm Monday, April 15, 2019

Americans love an underdog, a back-from-the-dead redemption story that even Hollywood couldn’t dream up. We just can’t help it.

Sunday’s final round at Augusta National fit the bill, producing the kind of story that nobody in their wildest imaginations thought could actually happen. Sixteen months ago, we wondered if Tiger Woods would ever play another round of competitive golf without writhing in pain, holding either a knee or his back. The thought of him winning another major at that point seemed outside of the realm of possibility. He could barely even sit at the table for the Champions Dinner at Augusta in 2017, let alone hit a golf ball.

By now, you know the story. At last year’s Tour Championship win in Atlanta, he broke through with an incredible win, his 80th PGA Tour victory. However, that was a far cry from Augusta National, the greatest stage in golf, where Tiger hadn’t won since 2005. 

Yet, there we were on Sunday, all transfixed by our television screens, watching Tiger pounce to the top of the leaderboard as if we’d jumped in a time machine set to 2001. After the win, Tiger looked different. He wasn’t a 20-something-year-old with years of majors ahead of him. His focus didn’t immediately shift to the next one in his sights, as he chased down Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

An older, more authentic Tiger hugged his kids and high-fived just about everyone in sight as he made his way to the clubhouse. You could tell that this one — one he wasn’t sure he’d ever see — meant a lot.

The numbers at the end of the day were incredible. Tiger went 14 years between victories at the Masters, the most all-time. Fifteen majors, three behind Nicklaus. Five green jackets.

While they are important, none of those numbers actually tell this story.

Rewind the clock a few years, when Tiger could barely sit up straight, he not only looked broken physically, but mentally as well. He’s never been a person who let many people in his inner circle, but his entire life has played out on the most public of stages, and it was clear he was lost, struggling with a host of internal demons.

That’s not to mention his 2017 DUI arrest, following the fallout from his extra-marital affairs that came to public knowledge in 2009. There are many who can’t get past these two major flaws in Tiger’s background, unable to reconcile his personal struggles with his athletic prowess. I get it.

However, after both, it would’ve been easy for Tiger to hide in a cave somewhere. He’s earned hundreds of millions of dollars on the PGA Tour and through sponsorship deals, and he had nothing to prove at that point.

In the face of the scrutiny Tiger has faced over the last decade, no one would have blamed him for fading out of the public realm for good.

In my opinion, the fact that he didn’t is what makes this story so great.

Most became fans of Tiger because he did things we didn’t think were possible. He won the Masters by 12 strokes and the U.S. Open by 15. He won the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg.

At that time, he was unrelatable — a man of insane wealth and athleticism none of us could even come close to matching.

Somehow after falling off the mountaintop and hitting rock bottom, an older, rebuilt Tiger has become extremely relatable. Nobody saw that coming.

His fans are older too, many of them 30 and above. Tiger has been playing golf for almost 25 years as a professional, and like our own athletic careers, it appeared time had passed him by.

But, on Sunday he made us believe once more that anything is possible. Twenty-two years after announcing his dominance with a 12-shot victory, Tiger won on the same course. That’s not supposed to happen, not for a man who has overcome so many surgeries that it’s hard to keep track of what broke when.

Not for a man who took a Hail Mary on a back-fusion surgery just to hope for a normal life.

But this is Tiger Woods. And for some reason watching him win the Masters Sunday made us all feel a little younger, back like we did in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005 when he slipped on the green jacket.

It should also serve as a reminder that the biggest obstacles in life can be overcome. Personal embarrassment, unimaginable pain, public shame— Tiger’s career should’ve been over a long time ago.

Yet, here he is, back at the top of the game of golf once again. Right where he belongs.