Tiger Woods’ incredible finish at the Masters was a once-in-a-lifetime moment fans shouldn’t take for granted.
I don’t care who you are or what your viewing preferences are: if you follow sports at all, you know what just happened Sunday afternoon at the Masters was nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Tiger Woods won the Masters for the first time since 2005, for his first major win since 2008, after four back surgeries, a bunch of tweaks to his swing and a hurricane of problems self-inflicted and otherwise ripping very publicly through his private life. This guy just clawed his way up from one of the deepest pits anybody in sports has ever gotten into and got himself back out, and it was so fitting this happened at Augusta National I’m surprised it happened in real life before someone in Hollywood made it the ultimate golf redemption movie.
It’s truly one of the all-time greatest comebacks in the history of sports. This was one of those moments every fan hopes to see. I don’t care who you are or how closely you follow golf: this was something no one who watched, even if it was just Sunday’s action, should ever take for granted.
There are tons of people now who will tell you they never lost faith in Woods and saw this coming, but don’t mind them. This is a guy who, as recently as 2017, told us he doubted he’d even be able to play golf at all again. It’s not unreasonable for people to have doubted his ability to come back and win the Masters this year. No one should be raked over the coals for counting out a guy who gave us, intentionally or not, every reason to count him out.
This is truly the kind of comeback story everyone in sports media is so eager to write about, they’ll mythologize just about anybody these days.
One thing that bugs me about sports media at large is how comeback stories are usually handled. Some writers are so desperate that, in my opinion, literally anything can be treated as “adversity.” I don’t have enough fingers and toes to tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase “overcoming adversity” from the top of the sports media world down to even my own hyperlocal beat, talking to area kids who slip it into our conversations as casually as you might talk about the weather outside.
The problem is that “adversity” is used so often these days it’s in danger of becoming just another buzzword. It’s getting so watered down it’s almost become fluid itself, so now you have to dig deeper than ever if you want to know whether someone’s talking about overcoming a catastrophic injury to defy doctors’ expectations or getting an A on an algebra test on one night’s study.
When you lower the standards and broaden the definition of “adversity,” you can mythologize anybody. There’s far too much of that today.
Johnny Manziel got a comeback story before he even really came back to do anything of note, other than going to the CFL only to do something (still unclear) to get banned from the entire league and end up in the now-defunct AAF. He never really got out of the weeds and turned his life around before his redemption arcs were actually published, and how that happened at all still confuses me. His post-NFL career has had more of a “where are they now?” vibe to it than anything else.
Derrick Rose scored 50 points in a game and got everything short of a parade in Minneapolis, which led a lot of writers to sweep one of the murkiest sexual assault cases I can remember under the rug so as not to wreck the narrative of an unexpected return to form. I agree that something larger than life happened with him, but it wasn’t the in-game achievements: it was somehow admitting in court to doing pretty much everything he was accused of, then getting let off the hook by a jury so enamored with his fame its members posed for pictures with him right after quickly finding him non-liable possibly due to his lack of understanding of legal consent. That doesn’t happen for regular people, and that it happened to a famous person everyone felt bad for due to his extensive injury history and past NBA MVP glory shouldn’t make it excusable — let alone worth making light of in an attempt to get people to worship the guy.
People like to hold athletes up to a high standard as role models for the kids because of their on-field accomplishments, which means a lot of athletes who would never agree to such a thing if given the choice are caught up in that net anyway. Just ask Charles Barkley. I don’t believe anything accomplished on a playing field should be used to redeem or cancel out a person’s actions off of it, but it happens all the time and especially so when people get in the business of myth-making. I do hope athletes like Manziel and Rose have learned or are learning to take true accountability for their actions and try to become better people, but I’m not sure they truly got to the right points on and/or off the field when folks started writing inspiring comeback stories and movies about them.
Woods didn’t seem to use this comeback as such a distraction from a personal life gone awry. Say what you will about his personality but he’s publicly taken responsibility for his actions after all of his scandals came to light, from extreme infidelity to prescription drug abuse. He made attempts to get help for and fix his addictions — things he may not have had as much control over as some would think — and it appears they’ve been successful. He taught himself how to control his body after several years of it breaking down during tournaments and requiring more surgeries than anyone ever wants to go through. He got back to the top of the golf world 22 years after he first got there, 14 years after his last Masters win, two years after his fourth and possibly most intensive back surgery.
This is the kind of story everyone wanted to tell but got too impatient to wait for. It truly was an unreal comeback. It truly is worth the time and effort writers everywhere, myself included, are putting in to make it the stuff of golf legend — of sports legend at large.
Knowing how much adversity Woods had to overcome physically and mentally over the years to pull this off is what makes this such a special moment. It tells us that no matter what life throws at us or what we’ve done to ourselves, there’s a chance we can pull through and achieve our goals with hard work, dedication and self-awareness.