A couple of short years ago, Tiger Woods was written off as done. Finished.
One of the greatest athletes of a generation had been reduced to tabloid fodder - his intoxicated mug plastered on TMZ following an OWI arrest.
The doubters, myself included, were wrong - dead wrong.
What unfolded this past week at Augusta National Golf Club, culminating with Woods fifth Masters title and 15th major championship, can only be described as one of the greatest moments in sports history.
Tiger might not have had his self-described "A game" at Augusta, especially off the green and, in the early rounds, on the greens inside of 10 feet. Yet, once the crucible of the second nine on Sunday hit, there was Woods standing tall, when everyone around him crumbled.
The Tiger we saw win Sunday at Augusta was an older, wiser, more mature version compared to the baby-faced prodigy who walked off the 18th green to a bear hug from his father, Earl, in 1997.
Time and battle scars will do that to a man. Be it a myriad of injuries and surgeries, his fall from grace in 2009 when his infidelity was exposed, or that fateful night two years ago in Florida with his damaged car on the side of the freeway, Woods has been through hell and back and has reached the pinnacle again.
Woods didn't just win on sheer talent and intimidation - like he did during his dominant run of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Like a multi-time Cy Young winner who has lost a few MPHs from his fastball with age, Tiger tamed the field, and Augusta, with smarts and savvy.
Woods admitted he plodded his way around the course through the first nine on Sunday, stalking leader Francesco Molinari, waiting for the window of opportunity to open.
At the 12th hole, the apex of Amen Corner, Molinari made the one mistake that cannot be made - coming up short while hunting the back right hole location tucked along Rae's Creek. He wasn't the only one. Four of the final five players who took on the short, mercurial par 3 found the same watery grave. The one who didn't? Woods, who fired safely at the center of the green, managed his two-putt and suddenly found himself in a share of the lead.
Molinari's miscue opened the door to several contenders other than Woods. Others took had their shot down the stretch - Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka to name a few - but all faded just as quickly as they surged. Woods, meanwhile, kept plodding along. He took advantage of the par 5s, making birdies 13 and 15. He then hit the shot of his tournament at 16, nearly recording an ace, which would have surely replaced Gene Sarazen's albatross at the 15th in 1935 as "the shot heard 'round the world."
Before anyone knew what hit them, Tiger was in front by two with two holes to play. He dodged a couple of bullets before making his way to Butler Cabin. Both Johnson and Koepka had chances to birdie 18 to get to within one stroke.
Both missed. It seemed the golfing gods' way of saying destiny was not going to be denied - not on this day.
Sure, Woods missed a couple of potential exclamation point putts on 17 and 18, but he put himself in a position where he didn't need them to win.
Woods, whose impatience through injuries likely robbed him of several great seasons in his prime, used patience Sunday and capped off one of the greatest comebacks in sport.
Immediately, in the golf world, comparisons flooded back to Jack Nicklaus' win at Augusta in 1986, when his game had been left for dead by the golf pundits.
Yes, there were still plenty of doubt as to whether Tiger could win again, but the signs had been pointing to this day for the better part of 10 months. He put himself in position last July at The Open Championship, leading on the back nine at Carnoustie only to lose to a hard-charging Molinari. He hit great shot after great shot down the stretch last August at the PGA, only to see Koepka shrug off each challenge and stay with him blow for blow. A win last September at the Tour Championship, proved Woods could beat an elite field of golfers. Finally, on a magical Sunday at Augusta, it all came together again.
Tiger's game might have been more on point coming into Augusta than Jack's was back in '86. Tiger shot 35 on the second nine to win, not quite the final nine 30 that Jack rode to victory 33 years ago, but make no mistake about it, the enormity of the two moments are in a level rarely seen in sports.
I was a mere toddler when Jack won in 1986. Specials and documentaries have helped recapture that moment and tell it to a younger generation of golf fans. Now, this generation has its own seminal moment. We have Tiger in '19.
Thirty years from now, we'll get to sit back and say, "I remember where I was when Tiger turned back Father Time, concquered his adversity - self-inflicted or otherwise - and once again reached golf's summit."
The scene on the 18th was surreal. Roars unlike any other reverberated through the Georgia pines. Joyous chants of "Tiger!" "Tiger!" rained down from the normally reserved Augusta crowd. Then there was the scene off the 18th green where he met his mom and own kids.
Twenty-two years later, a father once again gave his son a giant bear hug after a Masters triumph. This time, Tiger was the father, hugging his son, Charlie, all decked out in his dad's traditional Sunday red. It was a scene for the ages to cap off a win for the ages.
On the CBS broadcast, Jim Nantz said, "If that scene, as a parent, doesn't make you cry, you're not human."
He's right, and I did.
The Masters has only three corporate partners which air commercials during the television broadcast. One of those partners, Mercedes Benz, aired a spot all week called "Never," that summed the moment perfectly.
"Never taunts you," the announcer read. "Never crosses its arms. Rolls its eyes. Never loves to say, 'That'll never happen.' Never never lets up. Until the impossible happens. And when it does, they never... ever... see it coming."
Just like Tiger Woods climbing back to the top of the sports world.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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