The moment, when it came, was unquestionably epochal. It couldn’t have been anything else.
The pictures of Tiger Woods in his moment of triumph on the 18th green at the Masters on Sunday are the front cover of the history of the game now, transcending not just golf but all of sport.
We know this because our game, pretty much ignored by them for the last decade, is back on the front pages and the top of the broadcast bulletins across the media world.
In the media tent we root for the story every time, so even those of us who were pretty convinced he’d never win a major again and said so – repeatedly – wanted this to happen. It’s the greatest story the modern game could ever know.
The shot in the arm to our sport from Wood’s victory at Augusta is seismic, and at a time when it appeared golf was going to the fringes.
Whatever you think about the man, whether it be fanboy, all-forgiving worship, or whether you believe he can’t have even a shred of redemption for what were basic human frailties, it doesn’t actually matter.
The reality is this person, flaws and all, is what the rest of the world understands IS golf. And in that respect you’ve got to have a complete re-examination of the game’s totemic figures and records and historical staging posts in the light of his 15th major championship.
We are being festooned now with claims of whether Woods is the greatest golfer and has delivered the greatest sporting comeback of all time.
I don’t think he is actually either of those things – at least not on his own.
Tiger is definitely the best golfer there’s ever been, in fact he’s probably been the top two, if you separate the second (2000-02, the Butch Harmon years) and the third (2005-07, the Hank Haney years) of the five swings he’s built and rebuilt during his career. Add in that this fifth era (the coaching himself years) is still far from finished.
Jack Nicklaus, for my money, was the greatest golfer ever, when you added in consistency, longevity and the manner in which he has conducted himself over five decades as the game’s most revered figure.
Sunday, however, changed that. Woods has now matched Jack’s longevity, and also his consistency. The issues of his recovery from potentially debilitating injury to win again, to me, now get him up level with Jack no matter that he is still three short of that iconic number of 18 major championship wins.
As for golfing comebacks, he’s still some way back from Ben Hogan, and really you’ve got to hope he always will be. Because Hogan nearly died twice as a result of his car accident in 1949, at the scene and again some weeks later due to blood clots which needed emergency transfusions that were a new and risky procedure at the time.
Four years later, Hogan won three majors in the same year, indeed won five of the six events he was able to play that year due to the lingering effects of his injuries, again with restrictions of medical science at the time in his recovery.
Tiger’s back problems were severe, no question, but never to the danger of his life and it was only a question of whether he’d ever play again – which of course he himself very much doubted only two years ago.
But with both of these “greatest” stories, the narrative is unfinished. Tiger is 43, and has just a few years in which to finish his legacy, as that’s still a pretty battered body he’s fighting against.
The only thing that’s certain is that you cannot doubt him now. And the longer he remains at this level, the longer the milestone of 18 major championship wins is in sight, it’s unquestionably best for golf. “Growing the Game” should surely never be easier.
Why Tiger won this time
“You don’t ever forget” we were told last year about Tiger. All he’d experienced through his major titles would carry him through if he got in position.
Actually, Sunday proved that Woods probably had to lose at Carnoustie and Bellerive in the last two major championships to be reminded.
On Sunday, he rode his luck a little but once others made the errors he was relentless.
Padraig Harrington, analysing on the BBC, spotted it almost immediately; Tiger repeatedly went to his natural sure shot, a cut, when under pressure.
There were no ambitious and ill-advised shots like the two on the 11th at Carnoustie in the Open and the tee shot on the 17th at Bellerive in the PGA.
On the 12th, knowing Brooks Koepka had doubled there and seeing his playing partners go in the water, he played the absolute safe shot, right over the “dent” in the front bunker.
Why Molinari, with a two shot lead, broke the cardinal rule of going for the pin on the right is the question he will be asking himself, probably forever.
Next up is Bethpage for the PGA – in May for the first time – and while of course you can’t rule Woods out there (anywhere, really) it seems to be better suited for two men who came up just short at Augusta, Koepka and Dustin Johnson.
But if Woods gets him into the mix, watch out. He’s remembered, again.