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COLUMN: With his fifth Masters title, Tiger Woods cements himself on top



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Tiger Woods celebrates after winning the Masters during the final round April 14 at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

It was a performance 14 years in the making.

With Tiger Woods’ finish atop the leaderboard at the 83rd Masters Tournament on Sunday, he claimed his fifth win at one of the most prestigious events in all of sports. The win adds to what has already become one of the most impressive athlete's resume of all time.

Since Woods won his first major golf championship at the 1997 Masters, he has won an additional 14 to bring him within just three of Jack Nicklaus, who holds the all-time record with 18. Woods also moved ahead of Arnold Palmer to second on the list of most career Masters wins, now with five and trailing only Nicklaus’ six.

And yet, what made Woods’ victory so special was less about the historic significance and more about the process. It is no secret that Woods has had a complicated relationship with fame since his rise to the top of golf. Toward the end of one of the most dominant decades in the history of professional athletics, his life and career became increasingly scrutinized. After a string of personal matters, Woods was forced to break from the sport he had been a star in since he was old enough to hold a club.

His return to the sport in 2010 marked the beginning of what would become a triumphant return to the top. No longer ranked the No. 1 golfer in the world — a title he held for the better part of the first decade of the 21st century— Woods began playing with a chip on his shoulder for the first time in his career.

To make matters worse, injuries would prevent him from competing on the biggest stages he rose to fame on in the first place. Despite several good runs, Woods was unable to get back to the top in any major tournament since what was previously his last major win, the 2008 U.S. Open.

In 2014, at the Honda Classic, he withdrew from the tournament after revealing he was suffering from back pain. He underwent back surgery that same year, making his return to the PGA Tour at the Quicken Loans National.

For years, Woods continued to struggle with injuries that would force underperformances in nearly every competition. Continuing back problems forced him to miss all four majors in one year for the first time in his career. It was not until 2018, four back surgeries later, that he finally began to look like his former self. Finishing second at the 2018 PGA Championship, his best result at a major since the 2009 PGA Championship, he officially reentered the conversation as the best golfer in the world.

After finishing second to Brooks Koepka in 2018, Woods would later face off with Koepka at the 2019 Masters for the championship. After day one, Koepka led the field with a score of 66, tied with Bryson DeChambeau. Woods, meanwhile, finished tied for 11th place with a 70. By Sunday, the final day of the tournament, Woods had moved up toward the top of the leaderboard, where he would stay for the remainder of the tournament. He would finish with a final score of 275, just one stroke ahead of Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele.

In one of the most impressive comeback victories in the history of the Masters, Woods won his 15th major championship coming from behind for the first time in his career. The win marked his first Masters win since 2005 and first major win since 2008.

After the final hole, in what was one of the most touching moments in recent sports memory, Woods embraced his son, 10-year-old Charlie Axel Woods, in the same spot he hugged his own father, Earl Woods, after winning his first major tournament in 1997. Earl Woods died in 2006 from a heart attack after battling prostate cancer since 1998.

Having returned to the top again when many doubted he ever would, expect the rest of Woods’ career to be filled with just as much excitement as 2019 has been for the greatest to ever play the sport.

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