Golf

With support of Spieth and Fowler, Thomas rallies to win PGA Championship

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USATSI

With support of Spieth and Fowler, Thomas rallies to win PGA Championship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Justin Thomas emerged from the shadow of a longtime friend and won the PGA Championship to take his place among the young elite in golf.

With two big breaks to start the back nine, a chip-in for birdie and a 7-iron that soared over the water to a peninsula green, Thomas closed with a 3-under 68 and won by two shots. The PGA Championship was the most fitting major for the 24-year-old son of a PGA professional.

Mike Thomas, a former PGA board member and longtime pro in Kentucky, walked along the edge of the 18th green and into the arms of his son, a major champion.

The week began with Jordan Spieth's quest for a career Grand Slam. Spieth was at the 18th green late Sunday afternoon at Quail Hollow, but only so he could celebrate the moment with Thomas, close friends since they were 14.

"So awesome, dude," Spieth told him.

It was every bit of that.

With five players still in the mix in the final hour, Thomas surged ahead by chipping in from 40 feet on the par-3 13th hole, and holding his nerve down the stretch as his challenger eventually faded, one after another.

Hideki Matsuyama, bidding to become the first player from Japan to win a major, appeared to recover from back-to-back bogeys with two straight birdies on the 14th and 15th holes to get within one shot. But the championship turned on the 16th hole.

Thomas faced a 6-foot par putt to stay at 8 under. Matsuyama caught a good lie over the green and chipped to 5 feet. Thomas wasted no time over the putt and drilled it in the center of cup. Matsuyama missed and was two shots behind.

Thomas sealed it with a 7-iron from 221 yards that cleared the water and rolled out to 15 feet. The birdie putt curled in and his lead was up to three going to the 18th. A final bogey only affected the score.

He finished at 8-under 276, his fourth victory of the year.

Kevin Kisner was the last one who had a chance to catch him. But he three-putted from 100 feet on the 16th for bogey, couldn't birdie the 17th from long range and hit his second shot into the water and finished with a double bogey. Kisner, the 54-hole leader, closed with a 74.

Matsuyama also hit into the water on No. 18 and made bogey for a 72 to finish three back.

Louis Oosthuizen (70), Patrick Reed (67) and Francesco Molinari (67) tied for second, though none had a chance to win playing the 18th.

Derek Carr, George Kittle rejoice in Tiger Woods' 2019 Masters win

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USATSI

Derek Carr, George Kittle rejoice in Tiger Woods' 2019 Masters win

Tiger Woods transcends sports. Whether you're a golf fanatic like Warriors star Steph Curry or not, it's likely you followed the final holes of the Masters on Sunday. 

We know two Bay Area football stars were locked in as well. As Woods won his first major since 2008 and his first Masters since 2005, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and 49ers tight end George Kittle couldn't contain themselves.

The Raiders clearly are Team Tiger, too. 

Kittle's timeline is filled with tweets about Tiger. He even responded to Golf Channel's Tiger Tracker. 

[RELATED: Tiger brings sports fans together more than any athlete ever has]

Curry called the win the "greatest comeback in sports." For these two gridiron stars, it's just another example of Tiger Woods bringing all walks of life together when he's back to winning.

Tiger Woods brings sports fans together more than any athlete ever has

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AP

Tiger Woods brings sports fans together more than any athlete ever has

After global scandal and physical decay prompted a multitude of instant judgments drawing dire conclusions, nearly all of them predicting his personal and professional demise, Tiger Woods roared again Sunday.

Roared louder than he ever could at any time in the wake of his many past successes.

And the world roared with him, louder than it ever could have before.

Coming from two strokes off the lead, Woods trampled the challenges offered by his colleagues, as well as that of hallowed Augusta National Golf Club, to win the Masters for the first time in 14 years and the fifth time since he blasted into celebrity with his first victory there in 1997, when at age 21 he immediately became the young king of American sports.

His triumph back then was seismic, with implications beyond golf and beyond sports. That was the event that put Tiger, his toothpaste-ad smile and his unique backstory into the hearts of millions of folks who had spent their lives ignoring golf.

Tiger on that Sunday in ’97 did what his father, the late Earl Woods, said he was ready to do, even as so many others said he was not.

Tiger on this Sunday, with his two children in attendance, did what only he knew he could do, with so many others skeptical and more than a few thinking he simply could not.

Not after the serial philandering and resultant domestic shame that busted his family into fragments. Not after the four back surgeries --  including spinal fusion two years ago -- that diminished his power and tested his perseverance, pushing him to brink of retirement. Not after missing the cut in garden-variety tournaments, skipping his beloved Masters three times in what should have been his prime and dropping to No. 1,199 in the world rankings.

And certainly not after 11 years without winning a major and entering this one at age 43.

He was done, right? Didn’t we all hear that? And have good reason to believe it?

Yet when Tiger decided to enter this tournament, there was a kernel of hope among his fans and CBS TV executives. No individual or team in American sports galvanizes an audience quite like Tiger. If he could be in contention entering the weekend, the eyeballs would follow.

If he was anywhere near the lead Sunday, he would dominate TV from coast to coast.

The Warriors, preparing for Game 2 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, were so captivated that coach Steve Kerr delayed video study to watch Tiger play the last two holes.

“Pretty amazing,” Kerr said.

What’s more amazing than Tiger’s win is the reaction, far and wide. His victory walk through the gallery was a trek of adoration, with a mass of humanity straining touch or be heard by a man who not so long ago surely felt unloved.

“I think Steph [Curry] almost cried,” Kevon Looney said of the team’s reaction.

Curry went straight to his phone, tweeting that what Tiger did Sunday represents the “Greatest comeback in sports.”

That Americans love a comeback story is cliché but true. Almost anybody with the right combination of gifts, with the exception of O.J. Simpson, can come back from the depths of despair.

Tiger, if only for now, is back on top because we’ve never seen anyone like him. It’s not every century that a little brown kid conquers golf. It’s not every athlete that can, in most salient ways, transcend race, religion, sexual identity and even, in this day and age, political affiliation.

[RELATED: Steph Curry shouts out Tiger Woods after historic 2019 Masters win]

Michael Jordan didn’t do that, and Tom Brady can’t do that. Neither can LeBron James nor Kevin Durant nor Curry. Only Tiger can bring this country together for a few hours with only the most vitriolic not feeling the moment.

He’s back. And we’re right back at his side, ready to eat from the palm of his hand, not because we love him but because we know what he has is so rare and special.