Tiger Woods' Masters return evokes 'Tiger mania' of old

He last won a major nearly 10 years ago, and has since been mauled by the maelstrom of life yet "Tiger mania" is in f...

Posted: Apr 4, 2018 6:35 AM
Updated: Apr 4, 2018 6:35 AM

He last won a major nearly 10 years ago, and has since been mauled by the maelstrom of life yet "Tiger mania" is in full swing at Augusta.

From a sex scandal, divorce, and loss of form, to arrest for driving under the influence, addiction to painkillers and four major back surgeries, Tiger Woods' route into the sunset of his career has been rocky to say the least.

Woods returns to Masters for first time since 2015

Underwent spine fusion surgery last April

Has had four back surgeries since March 2014

Plus, he's 42 in a sport dominated by fit, young athletes -- a trend he pioneered 20 years ago.

And yet.

Woods will tee it up at Augusta this week as one of the favorites to clinch a fifth green jacket and 15th major title.

Far from fairytale or wishful thinking, Woods' remarkable resurgence this season following back fusion surgery last April suggests he is trending towards the top of a leaderboard. In his last three events he's finished 12th, tied second and tied fifth.

And not just any leaderboard. If anywhere is Woods' patch, it's Augusta National.

Four victories and nine other top 10s in 19 Masters as a pro suggests if he has any kind of form, he has a chance.

"He's got a great chance, his game is right there, he's very comfortable around this golf course," Rory McIlroy told a media conference Tuesday at Augusta.

READ: Rory McIlroy -- Holywood star with box-office appeal

And yet.

Woods hasn't played the Masters since 2015 and has missed three of the last four because of the persistent back injury. He tried to get fit, but says in hindsight it was a "pipe dream" as his back was "fried."

He last won at Augusta in 2005 when Jordan Spieth, another of this week's likely protagonists, was 11.

His last major title was 2008, after which life not only got in the way but tripped him up and kicked him when he was down.

READ: McIlroy, Mickelson, Spieth target grand slam elite

Just last year he spoke of "dark times" during his various spells out for rehabilitation. He talked of having "no light at the end of the tunnel" and feared his career was over. He even worried he might not be able to get back to a full and normal life -- playing with his kids, driving a car, going out to dinner. The pain in his back and down his leg was too bad.

Last May he was arrested for driving under the influence and his haggard face was paraded around the world in his police mugshot. The dashcam video of Woods attempting to answer questions was painful viewing for fans.

This public humiliation was a new low and the final confirmation for some that he was done.

READ: India's Shubhankar Sharma 'believes he can win Masters'

And yet.

The painkillers he was using were helping in his recovery from the back fusion surgery -- his fourth procedure since March 2014. Evidence would suggest the op was a major success. Free of the meds, Woods appears to be a new man.

"I don't have any pain," he told reporters Tuesday, acknowledging this comeback is "light years" from 2017's aborted return.

"Yes, I'm much tighter but for some reason it's come back. All of a sudden I had this pop in my body and my speed's back and my timing."

So far this year, the former world No.1 has recorded the fourth fastest club head speed on the PGA Tour. Speed equals distance. So much for an injured ageing has been.

"I got a second chance on life," Woods was quoted as saying on his website last week.

"I'm a walking miracle."

'Mystical'

That's exactly what golf thought of Woods when he made his splash, winning by a record 12 shots to become the youngest Masters champion at 21 years of age in 1997.

He added a second green jacket in 2001, the fourth leg of the famed "Tiger slam" for holding all four majors at once (although across two calendar years), and backed it up with a third in 2002 despite the "Tiger proofing" of the course to combat his power.

Woods' fourth green jacket in 2005 came via one of the most legendary shots in Masters lore -- a chip-in using the viscious slope of the 16th green to coax his ball down into the hole.

In his heyday, Woods seemed at times to exist on a different plane. One of his most remarkable -- even slightly mystical performances -- was when he winced his way to his last major victory -- the 2008 US Open -- on what was later diagnosed as a broken leg.

Then came the private life scandal that brought him crashing down.

Woods regained his world No.1 spot with a five-win season in 2013 before the back injury chapters began.

He acknowledges he is nudging towards the sunset of his career, but like other great sportsmen such as tennis legend Roger Federer, Woods refuses to go quietly.

Despite the case against him, Woods has forced his way back into the picture. The intangibles seem to outweigh the facts with the great ones.

Woods' re-emergence -- dubbed "superhuman" by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan -- has evoked memories of the old days.

But this time he's different.

Greatest comeback?

The ultra-focused younger Woods was an icy figure. This Woods is approachable, more engaging -- he even played a practice round at Augusta with former arch rival Phil Mickelson. Time, age and life has mellowed the old gladiators.

"We're at the tail end of our careers, we both know that," Woods told his Augusta media conference.

"That was then and this is now."

READ: Fan Favorite Phil Mickelson still pushing for grand slam glory

And now is reporters asking Woods if victory this week would represent the greatest comeback in sports.

"I've got four rounds to play so let's just slow down," he laughed.

Until the tournament begins, at least, Woods' rivals are delighted he is back in the fray.

"A lot of people quickly forgot what he accomplished," said former world No. 1 Jason Day. "But now he's back and he looks like he was before, everyone's chomping at the bit to see what he can accomplish."

Woods' fellow American Rickie Fowler added: "Tiger's earned the attention. After Arnold [Palmer] and Jack [Nicklaus] set it up, Tiger changed the game and took it to a whole new level. He's been the biggest needle mover in the game and it's going to be tough for anyone to come close to that."

Woods described fellow golfer Ben Hogan's comeback after a head-on car crash with a bus in 1949 as one of sport's greatest comebacks.

Nicklaus might have a claim, too, after winning a sixth Masters at the age of 46.

But a fifth green jacket Sunday would put Woods right in the mix.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Reported Deaths: 7390
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22299271
Hinds20782424
Harrison18455317
Rankin13933282
Jackson13740249
Madison10276225
Lee10068176
Jones8475167
Forrest7845153
Lauderdale7263242
Lowndes6524150
Lamar636688
Lafayette6315121
Washington5427138
Bolivar4842133
Panola4671110
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Pearl River4610148
Marshall4576105
Warren4440121
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Monroe4163136
Union415977
Neshoba4066180
Lincoln4009113
Hancock387687
Leflore3516125
Tate342586
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Pike3374111
Alcorn327474
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Adams308586
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Copiah299966
Coahoma299084
Simpson298689
Tippah292468
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Marion271480
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Wayne264842
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George252451
Newton249064
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Holmes190574
Stone188833
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174232
Yalobusha167940
Smith164134
Walthall135547
Greene131934
Lawrence131424
Montgomery128943
Noxubee128034
Perry127538
Amite126542
Carroll122330
Webster115132
Jefferson Davis108534
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96729
Franklin85023
Quitman82316
Choctaw79218
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66328
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 549394

Reported Deaths: 11328
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810851571
Mobile42180832
Madison35733524
Tuscaloosa26186460
Shelby25638255
Montgomery25103615
Baldwin21921314
Lee16301176
Calhoun14725329
Morgan14650286
Etowah14192364
Marshall12465230
Houston10798289
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Limestone10191157
St. Clair10166251
Cullman9975201
Lauderdale9621250
DeKalb8978190
Talladega8467184
Walker7351281
Autauga7244113
Jackson6993113
Blount6957139
Colbert6418140
Coffee5650128
Dale4931116
Russell455241
Chilton4476116
Franklin432082
Covington4283123
Tallapoosa4137155
Escambia402380
Chambers3731124
Dallas3609158
Clarke353361
Marion3264107
Pike314878
Lawrence3135100
Winston283672
Bibb268664
Geneva258782
Marengo250566
Pickens237062
Barbour234460
Hale227078
Butler225071
Fayette219763
Henry194844
Randolph187744
Cherokee187545
Monroe181041
Washington170639
Macon163051
Clay160159
Crenshaw156157
Cleburne153744
Lamar147237
Lowndes142154
Wilcox126830
Bullock124642
Conecuh113830
Coosa112129
Perry108826
Sumter106032
Greene93734
Choctaw62125
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