Golf

Tiger Woods hunts for miraculous win on the Masters — a feat that may shake the sporting world

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The best way Tiger Woods goes, one in every of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finest strains is useless. “There aren’t any second acts in American lives” takes no account of Woods’s comeback from a number of surgical procedures and an opioid-fuelled brush with the legislation. Golf’s fallen star is a 10-1 favorite in some bookmaking lists to win the Masters.

That worth is absurd. To put Woods forward of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy or Justin Spieth is a colossal leap of religion — a lurch into the previous. However the second act in Woods’s life is being enthusiastically packaged right here at Augusta, with one American media outlet emoting a few potential victory for the world’s most well-known golfer: “That may full the best athlete comeback in sports activities historical past, and it’s not even shut.”

For these with longer recollections, Muhammad Ali’s return from exile imposed on him for refusing the Vietnam draft to reclaim the world heavyweight title would take some shifting within the redemption charts. A fifth Masters win for Woods, although, 13 years after his final, would shake the sporting world.

A lot is manufactured from the emotional turmoil in Woods’s story: an arc stretching from the fire-hydrant crash and infidelity firestorm of 2009 to his arrest final yr in Florida for driving beneath the affect (police say he had THC, the lively ingredient for marijuana, the painkillers Vicodin and Dilaudid, the anxiousness and sleep drug Xanax, and the anti-insomnia drug Ambien in his system when he was discovered unconscious on the wheel of his Mercedes).

These particulars despatched the celebrity-downfall trade into overdrive. Wrapped contained in the rise-and-fall narrative was a salient reality about Woods’s probability of returning to the highest. The heavy drug use stemmed largely from his fourth again operation, in April: the ugly “spinal fusion surgical procedure” that sounded just like the final rites on a spectacular profession. This was his fourth again operation since March 2014.

Tiger Woods gestures throughout a observe spherical previous to the beginning of the Masters at Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership on April 2. Jamie Squire / Getty Pictures

No surprise he says: “I acquired a second probability on life. I’m a strolling miracle.” And that miracle strode on to the vary after lunch on the primary observe day in gray trousers and pink shirt, with Fred {Couples}, one other golf survivor. The thrill within the small crowd across the vary was a foretaste of the curiosity deluge that may meet Woods’s first spherical within the Masters in 1,090 days.

He has performed 5 tournaments in 2018, with a second-place (on the Valspar Championship in March) and two top-10 finishes. In that point he has surged from 656th on the earth rankings on the finish of 2017 to 104th now.

For 3 of the final 4 years — and each of the final two — Woods has been at Augusta solely to attend the champions’ dinner, to eat and reminisce. The previous star of that ritual is Jack Nicklaus, and Nick Faldo has stated within the build-up to this yr’s occasion: “You need to ask Jack Nicklaus what Tiger stated to Jack a yr in the past (on the dinner). I imagine it’s not a secret, I believe it’s on the market. He stated, ‘That’s it, I’m achieved.’ Tiger was that adverse.” Twelve months in the past, Woods was unable to swing a membership. “I used to be debilitated,” he confessed final week on his web site.

Faldo, a three-time Masters winner, additionally says of Woods: “He’s going to threaten. He has the potential. His sport is superb. I believe he’s forward of schedule. He’s been in there competing for the final couple of occasions.

“That’s crucial factor — you’ve acquired to climb that ladder and scare your self. How he’s discovered 5 extra miles per hour in club-head pace in his 40s after a fused again is unbelievable.”

Tiger Woods practices for the Masters on April 2. Jamie Squire / Getty Pictures

Nicklaus, in the meantime, is central to the melodrama, from early brilliance to inconceivable comeback now. Ever since Woods destroyed the Augusta Nationwide course to win by 12 strokes in 1997, sport has obsessed about him beating Nicklaus’ document of 18 main wins. As Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian level out of their new biography, Tiger Woods, their topic watched Nicklaus win the 1986 Masters and later wrote: “Jack was 46, and I used to be solely 10, and I couldn’t put it into phrases then. However I needed to be the place he was, and doing what he was doing.”

The e book’s authors say: “After the 1986 Masters, Golf Digest revealed a listing of Nicklaus’s profession accomplishments. It included his age on the time of every vital achievement. Tiger tacked the record to his bed room wall.

“From that second on, every morning when he awoke and every evening when he went to mattress, Nicklaus was there.”

The Nicklaus renaissance win in 1986 — one in every of Augusta’s best victories — may but be an inspiration for Woods, 42, who is barely 4 years youthful than Nicklaus again then. “There are a number of guys that may do it late of their profession,” Woods stated on the weekend, as fellow professionals lined as much as welcome his return.

Gratitude is compulsory. As Benedict and Keteyian remind us, Woods’s 1997 Masters win was essentially the most watched golf broadcast in American historical past: 43 million, or 15 per cent of U.S. households. As his reign unfolded, PGA tour purses rose from $67 million in 1996, his first yr as a professional, to $363 million in 2017-18, with the typical hovering from $1.5 million to $7.four million.

As Woods says, “the narrative has fully flipped,” and the cautionary story of his downfall has carried him again up Magnolia Lane for an additional strive.

A second act — nonetheless fragile, nonetheless lengthy it lasts.

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