Tiger’s 5th Masters title serves as yet another reminder that golf is unlike any other sport.
By Drew Kort
Sunday at the 2019 Masters didn’t start like those of years past. With a severe thunderstorm on track to hit Augusta National Golf Club in the early afternoon hours, the club decided to get all players out on both sides of the course by 9:20 am local time in groups of three rather than the traditional weekend twosomes.
A less anticipated storm, however, would hit the grounds just before the one seen on the weather radar. With patrons buzzing in the early-morning sunlight and a jammed-packed leaderboard of top-ranked players from all over the world, the day felt historic before it became so.
Paired in the final grouping with Francesco Molinari and the prior day’s 64-shooter Tony Finau, Tiger’s first ten holes were steady. Three birdies to offset three bogeys left him where he started, two strokes shy of the Italian’s lead.
The real battle began where it normally does at Augusta National, at Amen Corner.
The swirling winds on the infamous and treacherous par-3 12th hole rendered Molinari’s first real mistake of the tournament. A hesitant swing from the 2018 Open Champion produced a low shot that tracked a right pin location, but the shot landed in the middle of the slope fronting the green and trickled into Rae’s Creek. Well aware of the magnitude of the mistake, Tiger altered his strategy based on the experiences and knowledge he gained in his previous 21 Masters appearances.
“So I had to play left,” he would later say in his post-round press conference. “Just be committed, hit it over that tongue in the bunker. Let’s get out of here and let’s go handle the par 5s.” He did exactly that, and walked off the 12th green square with Molinari.
Textbook birdies at the remaining par 5s, 13 and 15, put him back where he is most comfortable, in the driver’s seat. With mistakes from Molinari and others now chasing him, Tiger went to the 16th hole with a one-stroke lead. Again, he utilized his course knowledge to gain the advantage. He used the slope behind the Sunday pin location to perfection to bring the ball to rest two feet from the cup.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 14, 2019
Now with a one-stroke lead and an ease and calm seen down the stretch of his other major championship victories, Tiger simply took care of business. He finished par-bogey and at a score of 13-under par. He won by one shot, and, for the first time in his career, he had come from behind in the final round to claim a major title.
One for the “ages”
In what other sport does a 43-year-old man with a reconstructed knee and fused spine win a major championship?
The same sport that saw a 36-year-old Ben Hogan horribly injured in an automobile accident, only to compete within a year, go on to win six major championships and enjoy the winningest phase of his career.
The same sport in which 67-year-old Sam Snead carded a 67 in the second round and a 66 in the final round of the 1979 PGA Championship…that witnessed a 46-year-old Golden Bear come out of hibernation to win his sixth Masters title by shooting a back nine of 30 and beating golfers less than half his age…that watched a 59-year-old Tom Watson nearly defeat the best players in the world to claim the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry.
The unthinkable has occurred yet again in the arena of this great sport. After numerous surgeries forced him to reconstruct his golf swing, 43-year-old Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, in the words of Golf Channel host Rich Lerner, is “back on the road to Nicklausville.”
How’d he do it?
When Tiger won his first green jacket at Augusta National as a 21-year-old kid, he was a power player. He hit the ball to places on the course never seen before. He was so long and so powerful that week that his ability became the driving force behind sweeping design changes intended to defend the golf course from being overpowered.
In following years, he continued to dominate other golf courses in the same manner–golf courses considered long by many standards.
Twenty-two years later, he showed up at an Augusta National that was 550 yards longer than it was in 1997 and with a game and body considered much less powerful than that of the younger version of himself and those that wound up below him on the final leaderboard.
How, then, are all of these seemingly impossible feats achieved at such a high clip? Experience, patience and intelligence, to name a few reasons. All of which Tiger displayed expertly on Sunday. Without these skills, power and athleticism can only go so far.
Golf puts such a premium on the execution of these intangible skills and qualities–most of which are learned over years and years of playing at the elite level–that distance off the tee becomes a much less important figure. These are skills that Tiger, and other veteran tour pros, have mastered. On Sunday, they allowed him to offset a lengthy Augusta National, a surgically repaired back and supremely athletic foes that are sometimes more than 15 or 20 years his junior and 30 or more yards longer off the tee.
Such is the unique nature of golf. A game that offers such longevity, can be played in so many different ways and is so conducive to resiliency that it allows for the continued accomplishment of the incomprehensible. For a weathered 43-year-old to compete, and win, on the grandest stage against the toughest competition that he himself inspired.
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