AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods blazing to victory in his Sunday red at the Masters, a scene once so familiar, was never more stunning.
It was only two years ago at Augusta National that Woods needed a nerve block just to hobble upstairs to the Champions Dinner, unsure he would ever play another round of golf. He had a fourth back surgery with hopes of simply playing with his two children, not chasing Jack Nicklaus in history.
And now it's all pieced back together -- his life, his back, even golf.
A fallen hero, a crippled star, Woods is a Masters champion again.
He won his fifth green jacket, his 15th major, but never with this much raw emotion. The most ferocious fist pump was when he walked off the 18th green, scooped up 10-year-old son Charlie, embraced his mother and 11-year-old daughter Sam.
"For them to see what it's like to have their dad win a major championship, I hope that's something they will never forget," Woods said.
"It's hard to really feel bad about how I played because I just witnessed history," said Xander Schauffele, one of three players who finished second. "It was really cool coming down the stretch, all the historic holes, Tiger making the roars. I feel like I got the full Masters experience."
The comeback goes beyond the two-shot deficit he erased before a delirious audience that watched memories turn into reality.
It had been 14 years since he last won the Masters -- no one had ever gone that long between green jackets. He had gone nearly 11 years since his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on a shattered left leg.
This was bigger.
Woods never missed a shot that mattered over the final seven holes, taking the lead with a 5-iron to the fat of the green on the par-5 15th for a two-putt birdie, delivering the knockout with an 8-iron that rode down the ridge by the cup and settled 2 feet away for birdie on the par-3 16th.
He tapped in for bogey and a 2-under 70, and the celebration was on.
"WOOOOOOO!!!" Woods screamed as he headed for the scoring room with chants of "Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!" He never hugged more people, everyone in his camp who stood by him through a public divorce, an embarrassing mug shot from his DUI arrest when he took a bad mix of painkillers and the four back surgeries, the most recent to fuse his lower spine
"I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple of years ago," Woods said "I could barely walk. I couldn't sit. Couldn't lay down. I really couldn't so much of anything. ... To have the opportunity to come back like this, it's probably one of the biggest wins I've ever had for sure because of it."
"You couldn't have had more drama than we all had out there. And now I know why I'm balding. This stuff is hard."
Now the comeback is truly complete. And the race is on.
"A big 'well done' from me to Tiger," Nicklaus tweeted. "I am so happy for him and for the game of golf. This is just fantastic!!!"
Woods now is three short of the gold standard -- 18 majors -- set by Nicklaus.
"I think 18 is a whole lot closer than people think," Brooks Koepka said.
Joe LaCava, the caddie who stayed with Woods even when he didn't play for the better part of two years, said they have talked about the record.
"We're on 14 and I said, 'Let's get to 15.' You can't be on 14 and thinking about 18," LaCava said. "But now we can start talking about 16. So we're getting closer."
It was the first time Woods won a major when trailing going into the final round. Francesco Molinari, the 54-hole leader, was still up two shots heading into the heart of Amen Corner.
Molinari's tee shot on the par-3 12th never had a chance, hitting the bank and tumbling into Rae's Creek for double bogey. Until then, Molinari had never trailed in a round that began early in threesomes to finish ahead of storms.
And then it seemed as though practically everyone had a chance, until Woods delivered the key shots at the big moment, just like the old days.
Schauffele failed to birdie the par-5 15th and scrambled for pars the rest of the way for a 68. Dustin Johnson made three consecutive birdies late in the round, but he got going too late and had to settle for a 68 and a return to No. 1 in the world.
Koepka, one of four players from the final two groups who hit into the water on No. 12, rallied with an eagle on the 13th, narrowly missed another eagle on the 15th and was the last player with a chance. His birdie putt on the 18th from just outside 10 feet missed, and he had to settle for a 70.
Woods finished at 13-under 275 and became, at 43, the oldest Masters champion since Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket at 46 in 1986.
Koepka and Molinari had both faced Tigermania in the majors and held their own, Molinari at Carnoustie to win the British Open, Koepka last summer at Bellerive to win the PGA Championship. Molinari went 49 straight holes without a bogey, a streak that ended on the seventh hole. It was the double bogeys that cost him, and the Italian was gracious as ever in defeat .
"I think I made a few new fans today with those double bogeys," he said.
The final round started early in threesomes from both tees to finish ahead of a storm system. Rain fell briefly, but it stayed away long enough for Woods to be presented his green jacket on the practice green, just like old times.
"Now I'm able to play golf again, and do it at an elite level again, which is something I'm just very blessed to be able to have that opportunity again," Woods said.
Former Arkansas Razorbacks golfer Alvaro Ortiz was the second lowest amateur in the field, finishing 2 under which was good enough for a tie for 36th place.
Andrew Landry (Razorbacks) was 2 under Sunday and finished at even-par 288. That put him in a tie for 46th and won him $37,950.
Tiger Woods reacts as he wins the Masters on Sunday in Augusta, Ga. It was Woods’ first victory in a major since 2008 when he won the U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods reacts with his longtime caddie Joe LaCava after winning the Masters on Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.
Sports on 04/15/2019
Print Headline: No longer endangered: Tiger thrills, wins 1st major since ’08