The list of Tiger Woods’ achievements in his storied golf career goes on and on:
82 PGA Tour tournament victories
15 Majors, including five Masters titles
683 weeks—that’s more than 13 years—as the world’s top-ranked player
Etc . . . Etc . . . Etc
But in his finest hour as a pro, he finished in 47th place, 13 strokes over par. That was in the 2022 Masters.
If you read the headline ‘Tiger shoots worst-ever 78 in third round,’ the story the next day that referred to his final score as “his highest ever at the Masters” or another that called his finish “disappointing,” you might not realize what he accomplished in his 25th trip to Augusta.
His score or his place on the leaderboard is not what mattered.
In one of the greatest feats in the history of sports—not just golf, all of sports—the man:
broke par on Day One;
made the cut on Day Two; and
walked more than 18 hilly miles on what is widely considered the toughest walk on the PGA Tour, plus practice rounds earlier in the week, by the time he trudged up No. 18 on Day Four.
And he did all of that less than 14 months after a spectacular single-car crash that easily could have killed him.
He nearly lost his right leg—his surgeons said amputation was seriously considered. And many medical experts said he might never walk—normally—again.
But there’s very little that’s “normal” about Tiger Woods. He transitioned from wheelchair to crutches to walking-without-assistance to swinging a golf club again—all in about eight months’ time.
Ben Petrick, who saw his “sky’s the limit” future as a Rockies catcher completely destroyed by young-onset Parkinson’s disease 20 years ago, described what separates the elite in any endeavor in his book, Forty Thousand To One.
It explains how Tiger made it back to Augusta National:
All excellence requires deliberate practice . . . hour after hour . . . day after day . . . .
Grit is your essential self. It’s who you are when you’re left with nothing but the air in your lungs and a decision to make.
In a television interview following his final round, Tiger talked about his grueling rehab, and admitted that, on many days, his ordeal “sucked.”
But he did it. And through superhuman perseverance, he overcame the greatest physical adversity of his life.
That interview impressed me as a prime example of how far Tiger has come since the days when he dominated golf. He was a young man then, the best in golf by a mile, and he was condescending in interviews. He seemed impatient, granting a few of his valuable minutes only because it was expected.
By contrast, his on-camera interview following each round at Augusta this time was relaxed, courteous, friendly—humble. The 46-year-old version of Tiger today is more likable, more human.
On the course, too, he was different. In the past he was, at times, intemperate, given to lapses in the behavior expected on a golf course. He treated his adoring fans as subjects. His air was almost regal.
In this Masters, though, he seemed to genuinely appreciate the resounding applause and lengthy ovations of the galleries that were so thrilled to have him back. They hoped for more of the shots they’d seen only from Tiger in the past, but his score was secondary. He was there, and he was smiling and waving his cap to them.
If anyone doubts that this Masters was his finest hour, they should look at who failed to make it to the weekend.
Among those who did not survive the cut were eight Major champions who are Tour regulars:
- Padraig Harrington
- Zach Johnson
- Brooks Koepka
- Jordan Spieth
- Mike Weir
- Gary Woodland
- Justin Rose
- Bryson DeChambeau
Woods also bested a half-dozen senior former Masters champions: Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Larry Mize, Vijay Singh and Sandy Lyle.
And a youthful winner of the Tour Championship and Fed Ex Cup, Xander Schauffele, went home early, too.
Who among these 15 would have made it back to Augusta after such a horrific experience?
What would they have shot had they played?
Would any one of them have lasted all four rounds?
The day after the Masters, Tiger was quoted saying he’d definitely be in the British Open at St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf,where he has won twice.
He didn’t rule out next month’s PGA Championship or the U.S. Open in June, though he did allow that he’d have to “see” how things were before each.
Regardless, he has already gained a new level of admiration from his legion of fans.
His 2022 Masters is an achievement that stands alone.
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at firstname.lastname@example.org.