Golf

Tiger Woods completes improbable comeback, wins 2019 Masters championship

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USATSI

Tiger Woods completes improbable comeback, wins 2019 Masters championship

The greatest comeback in sports history was completed Sunday afternoon at a little past 3:20 local time in Augusta, Ga.

After four back surgeries and personal scandals that forced him to rock bottom, Tiger Woods made it all the way back when he claimed his fifth Masters title, finishing at 13-under par.

Woods began the final round two shots back of Francesco Molinari, and through the first 10 holes, it appeared the 2018 British Open champion again would hold off the greatest golfer of all time to claim his second major championship.

But Molinari's tee shot at No. 12 found the water, and after tapping in for a double bogey, Woods found himself tied atop the leaderboard.

Birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16 catapulted Woods past Molinari and the rest of a star-studded leaderboard, giving him a two-shot lead while standing on the tee at No. 18.

Woods' tee shot at No. 16 will be remembered for generations, as the 43-year-old followed up his birdie at No. 15 by nearly holing out for an ace.

The Stanford product's tee shot on No. 18 found the right fairway. Needing a bogey to secure the win, Woods laid up with his second shot, and then sent his pitch into the middle of the green, leaving himself a downhill putt for par. The ball barely slid across the edge of the cup, giving him a 2-foot putt to claim his 15th major title and fifth green jacket.

Woods tapped in for bogey and the title, sending the patrons at Augusta National into a frenzy.

After rebuilding his body, courtesy of a fusion surgery on his back, then rebuilding his swing and finally rebuilding his confidence -- thanks to back-to-back top-six finishes at the 2018 British Open and PGA Championship -- Tiger pierced the sky with both fists when the ball found the bottom of the cup. He let out a primal scream as the weight of trying to achieve what some believed to be impossible was lifted off his shoulders. Then, a large smile stretched across his face as the reality of what he had accomplished started to set in.

More than half a lifetime after he rewrote the record books at the 1997 Masters, and 14 years removed from his last green jacket, Woods walked off the 18th green and hugged his children, in an eerily similar sight to that of his late father, Earl Woods, hugging him after his first Masters win.

Sports often give us "where were you" moments.

After Woods' shot on No. 16 rolled within a few feet of the cup, it was clear April 14, 2018, would be one of those moments. This generation's 1986 Masters. The day you'd tell your kids about.

When one of the greatest athletes in sports history showed he wasn't destined to find happiness outside of golf. He showed he has a lot left to give the game.

At a place where imagination takes over and dreams often become reality, Tiger Woods did the unthinkable. And now, he turns his attention to his renewed pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships.

After what he did Sunday on golf's hallowed ground, there's no reason to think Eldrick Tiger Woods can't achieve that as well.

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.