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Tiger Woods


Nicklaus' record back on the horizon

Tiger Woods The Masters 2019
Tiger Woods has Jack Nicklaus well and truly back in his sights.

After an 11-year wait, the three-time Champion Golfer turned 14 into 15 with Masters victory on Sunday.

And suddenly the Golden Bear’s Major record, that for so long was considered out of bounds, is back in play.

On the same course where Woods won his first Major as a sprightly 21-year-old back in 1997, Woods battled Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari in the final group on Sunday to win his fifth green jacket.

In a reflection of the 147th Open showdown at Carnoustie, this time it was Woods who got the better of the Italian, carding a two-under-par 70 to finish -13 for the weekend, a shot ahead of compatriots Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and last year’s Open runner up Xander Schauffele.

Another moment of similitude – and it was a weekend full of them – came off the back of the 18th green, after Woods had made the bogey that confirmed him as champion, when he stooped to embrace his ten-year-old son Charlie, just as his father Earl had hugged him 22 long years ago.

It was a moment of unbridled joy, unparalleled catharsis and unfettered incredulity, all factors combining to create the rarest of sporting moments where a scene is crystallised in time, its place in the pantheon of great golfing achievements immediately enshrined.

The world has already been quick to label the achievement – after a decade of high-profile troubles both on and off the course – as one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sport.

“It’s got to be right up there, with all of the things that I’ve battled through,” said the man himself.

“I was just lucky enough and fortunate enough to be able to do this again.”

While long-time friend and fellow pro Notah Begay III was more unequivocal: “What people see and understand is only a fraction of what he had to overcome.

“To say that it’s been a phenomenal comeback doesn’t even come close to doing it justice.”

Physically, Woods has battled injuries that almost forced him into premature retirement, while his personal life was writ large across the mainstream media, prompting him to take a break from golf in 2009.

“It’s got to be right up there, with all of the things that I’ve battled through.” Tiger Woods

Four surgeries on a beleaguered back – the latest a spinal fusion that had been labelled as make-or-break as recently as April 2017 – forced him to completely reassess his game and remodel his swing.

After six months of rest and recuperation, Woods found himself in unprecedented territory: ranked 1,199th in the world and counted out by most.

But in 2018, Woods made it clear that he was far from finished when he touched down in Angus for The 147th Open.

When he stepped onto the tee box on the first at Carnoustie on Sunday, he did so with a genuine chance to win his first Major in a decade.

Battling tit-for-tat with Molinari, the American led the way at the turn, but the Italian’s late surge saw him snatch the Claret Jug from Tiger’s grasp.

It was a moment that no doubt gave him a taste of that feeling that had once been so familiar, the buzz of being in contention coming down the back nine on Sunday at one of the big four.

A second place at the PGA Championship at Bellerive followed, before triumph at last year’s Tour Championship saw Woods back in the winner’s circle, and back among the world’s elite.

Tiger Woods 2000 Open Champion

And it was momentum that the California native would not relinquish, his form widely acknowledged as he was ranked one of the pre-tournament favourites heading to Augusta.

But in a weekend chocked with familiarity, there was something new about the way Woods went about his business among the Azaleas.

The Tiger of old was a creature constantly on the offensive, characterised by the early leads that he repeatedly took in majors, which so often proved unassailable: four of Woods’ 14 were won wire-to-wire; he had led all of them after 54 holes played.

This time, however, it was Molinari who held the advantage at close of play on Saturday, two shots ahead of Woods, but the American ensured that the shoe was on the other foot as they teed off together once more, capping a famous victory with three birdies in four holes from 13 to 16 firing him to the green jacket.

What, then, does this mean in the grand scheme of things?

While it is certainly too early to call, after years on the back-burner, the age-old debate over whether Woods can chase down Nicklaus’ 18 Majors has certainly been resurrected.

The Golden Bear was one of the first to congratulate Woods on his fifth green jacket, tweeting: “A big “well done” from me to Tiger Woods! I am so happy for him and for the game of golf. This is just fantastic!”

Tiger Woods Open Champion 2006

While Brooks Koepka – who finished tied for second, a shot off the lead – stuck his neck out to make the prediction that everyone was waiting for.

“Eighteen is, I think, a lot closer than people think,” he told Sky Sports.

“I would say that's probably what all fans, what we're thinking. That he's definitely back and 18's not far."

The spectre at the feast, while Woods himself may try to play down the prospect, it’s a card that has now well and truly come back into play with Royal Portrush now firmly on the horizon.

While Woods wouldn’t be able to top Nicklaus’ record when the 148th Open Championship gets underway on July 18, Tiger’s position among the favourites will only have been reinforced by Masters triumph.

There will no doubt be plenty baying for Woods to take another step towards history when the Claret Jug heads to the Northern Irish course for the first time since 1951 – and how he would love to deliver.