Tiger Woods completed a contender for golf’s greatest comeback when he won the Masters at Augusta National.
Eleven years after his last victory in a major and following a decade in which he was almost consumed by scandal and crippling back pain, Woods had the world in awe by claiming his fifth Green Jacket and in the process rekindled a dream he that he has chased since childhood.
Woods has always had his sights set on Jack Nicklaus’s record haul of 18 major titles and now, after his latest success, he stands just three victories away from matching it and four from setting a new standard of his own.
Unlikely, maybe, at the age of 43, but no longer out of reach for a man who has spent a lifetime consistently defying the odds, both on and off the golf course.
Tiger’s next chance to move one victory nearer to Nicklaus comes at this week’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in New York.
This is a course where he won the 2002 US Open and finished tied for 6th in the same championship six years later.
It is interesting to note that Woods has also won a major, the 2000 US Open, by 15 shots no less, at Pebble Beach, which hosts that event again later this year and, while he has no past experience of the revamped Royal Portrush, venue for this year’s Open, few of his peers do, either.
This year’s PGA, the first staged in May since 1949, was always going to be an eagerly-awaited event but now, with Woods looking for major No. 16, it has taken on an altogether different dimension.
Suddenly, it will not be just ardent golf fans who will be tuning in to get a piece of the action. Instead, it will attract a much wider audience, many of whom will hitherto have paid little or no attention to the Royal and Ancient game.
Thanks to Tiger’s exploits, the PGA will be front page as well as back page news, something Nicklaus himself alluded to when he tweeted his congratulations to the man who one day may break his record:
— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) April 14, 2019
Woods has always pushed golf’s needle and now in spite of, or perhaps because of, his four back operations, his conviction for driving under the influence and allegations of serial philandering, he is taking golf into a much wider stratosphere which can only be good for the game.
That was something many of Tiger’s fellow tour professionals were keen to stress in the aftermath of his victory at Augusta.
“I couldn’t be happier, it’s a great day for golf,” said Rory McIlroy, despite his dreams of completing the Grand Slam disappearing for the time being at least in Tiger’s slipstream.
This will be felt all the way to China,” Haotong Li told Golf.com. “Tiger is as big as the world.”
“Any tournament I play, if I don’t win, I want him to win,” said Charley Hoffman. “He drives the game. He’s now spanned generations. He’s been through all those hard times and all those good times and, obviously, he’s not done yet.
“The best thing for the game would be for him to win a couple [more] majors and get closer to 18,” suggested the vastly under-rated Marc Leishman. “Things will go crazy. They’re going crazy now. Can you imagine?”
Yes, I can Marc, and it all starts again at the PGA at Bethpage Black, where Woods has already been installed as favourite, and where the eyes of the world will be on him to see how he fares.
For now, Ben Hogan, who won six majors after surviving a near fatal car crash in 1949, can still lay claim to achieving golf’s greatest comeback, but I would happily revise that view should Woods go to on usurp Nicklaus’ record.
Either way, it is going to be great fun to watch him try.