As far as upsets in sport go, Tiger Woods’ win in the US Masters golf tournament isn’t among the biggest. Leicester City’s 2015-16 success at Premier League football in the UK, defying odds of 5,000 to 1, and even India’s 1983 World Cup cricket victory at Lord’s are the stuff of real stunners. As for individual sports, fairy tales are made up of such outcomes as the 1978 defeat of boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali by a 24-year old Leon Spinks who had just seven professional fights to his credit till then.
In contrast, Tiger Woods walking onto the Augusta golf course seemed like dated television footage. After all, he had won the title four times between 1997 and 2005. Sure, the last of those was 14 years ago, but over the last year or so, he has threatened to get back to peak form. Indeed, portents of this win were visible in his 80th PGA Tour win at Atlanta last September. And, in many ways, Tiger Woods’ win echoes the fortunes of another fallen star, Goran Ivanisevic, who won the Wimbledon tennis title in 2001 after having lost three finals before that; struggling with a shoulder injury, the 125 ranked Croatian needed a wild-card entry to the competition.
Yet, there is something irresistible in the comeback staged by the golf legend.
The real drama of Tiger Woods’ fifth Master’s title is in the remarkable recovery he has staged, rising from the depths of despair to revive his career and reputation over the past two years. A lot of his earlier troubles, especially his marital woes, had been self-inflicted.
The death of his father in 2006 is said to have had a profound impact on his life; many fans believe it pushed him into the sort of reckless behaviour that led to his downfall.
But apart from emotional trauma, he has also suffered physical adversity that could’ve got anyone to hang up his clubs. His body nearly wrecked, only a last-ditch spinal fusion surgery in April 2017 allowed him to regain fitness. Not everybody thought he could do it. Most sports are unforgiving, that way. They reduce heroes to zeroes in an instant, even if they’re ready to reverse the process with equal felicity.
Greatness, though, is greatness. The world’s most successful batsman, Don Bradman, needing a mere four runs to end his career with a magical average of 100 runs, was bowled by Eric Hollies of England at The Oval for a duck. Bradman finished with an average of 99.96.
Tiger Woods’ triumph reminds us of the human frailties that attend achievement. Diego Maradona has over his illustrious and long career been guilty of terrible behaviour, including drug abuse and drinking binges. Yet, the man dubbed El Pibe de Oro (The Golden Boy) will always be considered one of the greatest footballers ever.
Tiger Woods will also go down in history as a flawed genius, a man who had everything going for him but still let his indiscretions get the better of him at a time he needed to shine as a star. But his glory lies in rising from that fall and showing the way to millions of his fans that redemption is possible, provided you have the will.