AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods’ comeback from personal and professional adversity is complete: He captured his fifth Masters title and his 15th major tournament Sunday, snapping a championship drought of nearly 11 years.
It was a monumental triumph for Woods, who had not won a major championship since his personal life began to unravel on Thanksgiving night in 2009, when a marital dispute led to a car accident and a succession of lurid tabloid headlines. On the golf course, he had a series of back and leg injuries that led to an addiction to painkillers and culminated in pain so searing that, before surgery in 2017, he had questioned whether he could play professionally again.
Woods, who at 43 became the second-oldest winner of the Masters at Augusta National, after the then 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus in 1986, last achieved major success in one of golf’s four major tournaments at the 2008 U.S. Open.
He had come close on some Sundays to winning his 15th major over the years but could not get it done. Yet after the surgery in 2017, a spinal-fusion procedure he called a “last resort,” he began a new lease on his career.
His pursuit of Nicklaus’ record 18 major championships, which seemed a foregone conclusion when he sprinted to 14 major titles in his first 11 years as a professional, is now officially back on.
Last year, Woods made 18 PGA Tour starts, his most since 2012, and posted his first victory since 2013, at the Tour Championship. He also contended in the last two majors of the year, the British Open and the PGA Championship, on the way to top-6 showings at each tournament. Those results, he said, boosted his belief that he could contend this week at Augusta National, the site of his first major triumph, by 12 strokes, in 1997.
Woods, in his 22nd Masters appearance, closed with a final round of 70 and finished 13 under par at 275, one stroke better than Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele. He took the lead with just three holes to play after a birdie putt on the par-5 15th hole and held on from there. With thunderstorms forecast for the late afternoon, organizers of the Masters moved up the start times by five hours and placed players in groups of three rather than the traditional two to speed play.
But by the time the tournament leaders went into the second half of their rounds Sunday, the wind picked up and it briefly began to rain.
Both of the players with whom he was grouped in the final threesome, Francesco Molinari, 36, and Tony Finau, 29, described Woods as their childhood idol. Both eventually succumbed to the pressure of the final round, but Woods did not.
And now, after more than a decade of being stuck in place, Woods suddenly seems to have a full head of steam moving forward. The next two majors, the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Long Island in New York in May and the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in California in June, are at courses where Woods has won before. He seems primed to do so again.