Is Tiger’s win the greatest sporting comeback of all time?
It’s the victory some thought might never happen but Tiger Woods has returned to the winner’s circle by clinching the Tour Championship.
How does his achievement rank, though, in the pantheon of sporting success? In Alternate Shot, two of our writers argue whether it actually tops the tree…
Yes, says Mark Townsend
How do you even start to measure this type of thing? But, given I generally rank his win at Torrey Pines as the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen and this tops that, then let’s go with this. The naysayers will say it’s just a 30-man field on a course where he’s won twice before but the real beauty of this is the manner in which he pulled this off.
At the age of 42, a time of life where you might think the nerve ends might be getting a little frayed to go with a body that has been to hell and back, he absolutely destroyed the best golfers in the world (other than Jordan Spieth) just like he did at Augusta when half his age. For all the chat of welcoming him back into the fold he’s now a genuine threat to all the big purses and, most importantly, the four majors for the next few years.
It’s not just a bit of fun and a limited schedule, it’s full-on Tiger and maybe a glimpse into what Ernie Els and co had to contend with for much of their careers.
We’ll probably never really know quite how low Woods sunk but we got to see him struggling to walk, struggling to hit wedges, having to resort to posting videos of 10-yard chips as some sign of optimism. And now he’s doing this again, just as he’s done for the past 20 years.
No, says Steve Carroll
Tiger’s victory is a Phoenix from the Flames-like recovery – of that there can be no doubt. But the greatest sporting comeback of all time? Be serious.
Without denigrating in any way the achievement of returning from a fused spine, even the most cursory look at sporting highlights of yesteryear find all manner of remarkable stories that surpass Woods’ struggles.
When Ben Hogan’s car was sidewinded by a bus in 1949, the Wee Ice Mon broke his pelvis, collarbone, ankle and crushed a rib. A blood clot during his recovery almost killed him for a second time and left him struggling to walk 18 holes.
Yet, in those days, you often played 36 in a day to complete a tournament and Hogan had to wrap his legs in bandages before each round of the 1950 US Open. He not only won that, but would claim another five major titles.
The ravages of early chemotherapy treatment left Bob Champion with battered lungs and little feeling in his hands and feet. The jump jockey defied all the odds to return to riding and completed his fairytale aboard Aldaniti in the 1981 Grand National.
Niki Lauda suffered severe burns to his head, inhaled toxic gas that damaged his lungs and fell into a coma in a horror crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix.
He missed only two races – somehow finishing fourth in the Italian Grand Prix on his return while later peeling blood-soaked bandages off his charred scalp. He would win the World Championship twice more.
They all faced death, turned it on its head and returned to rule their sports.
Winning the Tour Championship is a fantastic achievement, but let’s see a major or two before we can truly place Woods’ return in the same light.