One more roar: Woods wins fifth Masters title

April 15, 2019

AUGUSTA — He’s back.

All the way back.

After all of the surgeries, all of the low points, all of the close calls, all of the questions of if he’d ever play again – much less win another major – Tiger Woods is back in the green jacket.

He said it best Sunday after defending champion Patrick Reed slipped it over his shoulders and he shook hands with Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament chairman Fred Ridley:

“It fits.”

Woods captured his fifth Masters title – and 15th major championship – with a throwback performance in his Sunday red that looked just as fierce as it did more than a decade ago.

On a Sunday where it was anybody’s golf tournament, with seemingly every putt during an afternoon stretch carrying with it a shot at the lead outright or a share of it, it was Woods alone at the top at the end with a 13-under total that was a shot clear of Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka.

“There were so many different scenarios that could have transpired on that back nine,” he said. “There were so many guys that had a chance to win. Leaderboard was absolutely packed and everyone was playing well. You couldn’t have had more drama than we all had out there, and now I know why I’m balding. This stuff is hard.

“Yeah, just to come back here and play as well as I did and did all the things – all the little things well this week – and to do it here. This has meant so much to me and my family, this tournament, and to have everyone here, it’s something I’ll never, ever forget.”

In the process, he added to one of golf’s greatest legacies and rewrote some of his own personal history.

Gone is the reminder that he had never won a major when trailing after 54 holes – he came into Sunday two behind Francesco Molinari, the unflappable British Open champion who on Sunday came stunningly crashing back down to Earth when his ball found Rae’s Creek on the 12th hole and the pond on 15.

Back in play is Woods’ chase toward Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors – Woods has his 15th, 11 years after he won No. 14 at Torrey Pines. It’s his 81st career title on the PGA Tour, one shy of Sam Snead’s all-time mark.

And that seemingly innocuous start, a Thursday 70 that had him four shots off the lead – it’s now the fourth time that Woods has won the Masters after posting a 70 in the first round.

In his wake Sunday were many of the players who grew up idolizing him. He gave them an in-person experience of what they cheered for on TV when they were kids, and some of them joined the mob waiting to greet him after he came off the 18th green.

They had to wait, though. First came hugs for his mother Kultida and his children, son Charlie and daughter Sam. The shot TV cameras captured Sunday of Tiger hugging Charlie matched perfectly with the 1997 image of Tiger hugging his late father, Earl, after winning his first Masters as a 21-year-old.

That win, a 12-stroke bludgeoning of the field, came without drama.

That wasn’t at all the case for the 43-year-old version.

The top of the leaderboard remained in a sustained shuffle, the world’s top players making a charge to grab a piece only for others to give it right back.

The 12th hole, which has played such a prominent role on Sundays, whether it be Fred Couples’ ball hanging up above Rae’s Creek en route to victory in 1992 or Jordan Spieth splashing down twice in a shocking collapse in 2016, was as cruel as ever this time around.

Four of the six players in the two leading groups came up short and took double bogey.

Molinari, who went without a bogey from the 11th hole Thursday to the seventh Sunday, did and lost the lead, albeit briefly. Woods didn’t challenge the treacherous pin position, a Greek Siren if such a thing exists in golf, and was safely on the green as Molinari and Tony Finau had to take a drop.

“That’s all I was concentrating on. I had (147 yards) over the first tongue in the bunker there, and so my number, I was hitting it (150) and just be committed to hitting it (150),” he said. “There’s a reason why – I saw Brooksy (Koepka) ended up short. Poults (Ian Poulter) ended up short, as well. And so I – when I was up there on the tee box and it was about my turn to go, I could feel that wind puff up a little bit, and it had been something – Brooksy is stronger than I am, and he flights it better than I do, so I’m sure he hit 9 iron and didn’t make it.

“So I knew my 9 iron couldn’t cover the flag, so I had to play left, and I said ‘Just be committed, hit it over that tongue in that bunker. Let’s get out of here and let’s go handle the par 5s,’ and I did. Yeah, the mistake Francesco made there let a lot of guys back into the tournament, myself included.”

Molinari recovered, though, and joined Woods in a tie for the lead that also included Schauffele and eventually added Johnson and Koepka.

Another double for Molinari, though, this time on 15 when he clipped a tree and found the water again, plus missed opportunities late by the other three, meant that Woods had the solo lead after his birdie at 15.

He added another shot to his advantage with a 2 on 16, nearly acing it – yet still only his second-best Sunday shot on the hole – and just needed to avoid trouble on the difficult 17th and 18th. After all, he bogeyed both in 2005 with a two-shot lead and had to go to a playoff with Chris DiMarco.

That didn’t happen this time. Woods played a cut off the tee both times, relying on what he felt was his strength all weekend, and found both fairways. He parred 17 and then, after Koepka missed a short birdie putt on 18 that would’ve gotten him within a shot of the lead, tapped in for bogey and the win.

The tough shots down the stretch looked routine for someone who built an empire based on just that. What looked like it could be a massive playoff – and potentially a Monday finish with nasty weather not far down I-20 – became an emotional coronation after 11 years of waiting.

Patrick Cantlay continued his weekend assault on the golf course and briefly held the solo lead at 12 under when he rolled in an eagle putt at 15. At that point he was 14 under over his last 33 holes, having turned in a 64 Saturday, but bogeys at 16 and 17 ended his chances.

Jason Day was the clubhouse leader at 11 under, a mark reached or exceeded by 10 different golfers Sunday.

Johnson got it to 12 with a birdie on 17 but drove it into a fairway bunker on 18 and made par. Schauffele reached 12 under when he birdied 14 but parred his way home. Koepka got to 12 under with an eagle at 13 and a birdie on 15, recovering nicely from the double at 12, but parred the last three holes.

“So I just said ‘Just keep plodding along,’ and then next thing you know, I see Brooksy make a mistake at 12,” Woods said. “Francesco made a mistake at 12. Patrick was making a run up ahead. DJ was making a run. Xander was making a run. There were so many different scenarios that evolved, and I was looking at the leaderboard coming off 13 green and there’s six, seven guys with a chance to win the tournament.

“Just kept telling myself ‘I have – along with Francesco – we have the most holes to play, so whatever they do, I’ll just birdie the same holes, then it’s a moot point.’ As you know, I birdied 13, I birdied 15 with two good shots in there and almost whooped it at 16.”

Molinari, as unyielding all week as he had been alongside Woods at Carnoustie in July while winning the British Open, suddenly looked vulnerable. The doubles on 12 and 15 were stunning after his bogey-free streak, and after the one on 15, he became part of Woods’ victory parade.

“No, it’s great to see obviously Tiger doing well, but the way he was playing last year I think we all knew it was coming sooner or later,” he said. “So maybe next time it will be better for me, but it was nice to be out with him. He played well, he hit the right shots at the right time and deserved to win.”

What looked Saturday night like a no-doubter for Molinari turned into something that erased years of doubt surrounding – and for – one of the greatest to ever play.

“I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple years ago. I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lay down. I really couldn’t do much of anything,” Woods said. “Luckily I had the procedure on my back, which gave me a chance at having a normal life. But then all of a sudden, I realized I could actually swing a golf club again. I felt if I could somehow piece this together that I still had the hands to do it. The body’s not the same as it was a long time ago, but I still have good hands.

“So that certainly has helped, and I pieced it together, and next thing you know, if you look at it, my first 14 wins in majors were always – I had the lead in every one of them, or tied for the lead. To have the opportunity to come back like this, you know, it is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had for sure because of it.”