There is no roar like a Tiger roar, no gallery like a Tiger gallery, no presence in golf — or maybe all of sports — like Tiger Woods.
Fourteen months ago, the public’s concern wasn’t whether Woods would ever walk down a fairway again, but whether he’d ever walk again period. On Feb. 23 of last year his SUV rolled over after striking a curb outside of Los Angeles, causing “significant orthopedic injuries to his right lower extremity,” according to Dr. Arish Mahajan — which called for emergency surgery “for open fractures affecting both the upper and lower portion of the tibia and fibula bones.”
Doctors placed a rod into his tibia. His foot and ankle were repaired with screws and pins. Tiger said for a moment it appeared he might lose his right leg altogether. It was one of golf’s darker days.
As a show of support, a slew of top golfers wore red the next time they competed, paying homage to Woods’ signature Sunday color. It was a touching display of solidarity, but amid the heartfelt vibes put out by Tiger’s peers, you know people were wondering: Will he ever play again?
Looks like the answer is yes. At publication time, all signs point to Woods teeing it up at the Masters Thursday, where he has won five times. And he won’t be playing for the sake of nostalgia, but because he thinks he can win. During a news conference Tuesday, the 46-year-old said he believes he can capture a sixth green jacket.
Most of us thought Tiger’s days of competing for majors were over once we heard about the carnage two February’s ago. But for him to come back, and still be Tiger? That’s the tradition unlike any other.
I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my sports journalism career. I was on the sideline at the 2006 national championship game when Texas quarterback Vince Young blazed right by me to score the game-winning touchdown vs. USC. I was at the Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl and Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics. But nothing was exhilarating as watching Tiger Woods force a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
Some athletes can wow you with their skill, speed or leaping ability. Woods is the only one I’ve seen strike awe with his focus. The way he stalked the green on that 72nd hole with the crowd pin-drop silent — your average golfer wouldn’t have even been able to make contact with the ball on that putt. Yet he sank it from 15 feet.
Watching Tiger was one of the primary bonding tools between my father and I in his early years of dominance. I imagine there are millions of others who enjoyed his decadelong supremacy with a parent as well. He did things nobody in his sport has ever done … and also things that, for a stretch, made him one of sports’ primary villains.
Woods’ cheating scandal was among the most shocking stories to come from any realm of the entertainment world. Suddenly Mr. Clean was dripping in mud. It turned a lot of people off — especially women — and undoubtedly impacted his psyche on the course.
But everyone loves a good redemption story and Woods’ may have been the best of all. After the scandal, after multiple back surgeries, after 11 years of going without a major victory, he climbed back to the mountain in 2019 to claim his fifth green jacket at Augusta National. Amid the chanting of his name, Woods’ embrace with his children and Tiger showing more emotion than he ever had after a win, CBS analyst Nick Faldo summed it up perfectly.
“That will be the greatest scene in golf forever.”
These are the kinds of scenes that only Woods can create. These are the kinds of moments exclusive to Tiger, who is 25 years removed from the sport-shifting win at Augusta 25 years ago. And just when it looked like we’d never see him compete again, here he is — attempting to top his seemingly untoppable comeback.
Woods has regularly stressed how lucky he is to be in one piece. That accident could have produced an array of different outcomes, almost all of which would have been worse than what actually took place.
So yeah, he is lucky. But now that he’s playing again? We should all feel lucky, too.