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.
Steve Kerr on Tiger Woods’ Masters win: “It was incredible.”— Logan Murdock (@loganmmurdock) April 14, 2019
Kerr said the team delayed their film session to see his final few holes. pic.twitter.com/FeDNHNIqzG
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.
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.