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The roar of the Tiger returns to the Masters as Woods wins fifth green jacket

Tiger Woods wins the 2019 Masters in Augusta

Take a look as Tiger Woods celebrates his fifth Masters win on April 14, 2019.
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Take a look as Tiger Woods celebrates his fifth Masters win on April 14, 2019.

Two years removed from telling his peers at the 2017 Champions Dinner “I’m done,” Tiger Woods emphatically declared to the golf world he’s not done yet.

With a fused back and rebuilt confidence, the 43-year-old Woods snapped an 11-year drought to win his fifth green jacket and 15th career major with a thrilling one-stroke victory in the Masters Tournament early Sunday afternoon.

As a fitting conclusion to his comeback from personal hurdles, four back surgeries and a repaired knee since his last major win in 2008, Woods rallied from a final-round deficit for the first time in his major career. He finished 13-under par, one better than Brooks Koepka, Columbia’s Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele.

“My first 14 wins in majors, I had the lead in every one of them, or tied for the lead,” said Woods, who trailed Molinari by two strokes after 54 holes. a deficit Woods faced as he stepped to the 12th tee. “To have the opportunity to come back like this, you know, it is probably one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had for sure because of it.”

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Final-round leader Francesco Molinari, hits the shot that cost him the Masters, a short pitch that found first a tree limb and then water on the 15th hole Sunday. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel AP

The comeback was far more extreme than the two strokes he made up over the final seven holes. It represents one of the most monumental comebacks in golf history.

In 2017, Woods had to go to extreme lengths just to make it to Augusta for the Champions Dinner. He took nerve blockers to be able to travel and sit uncomfortably to eat the prime rib served by Danny Willett. He told his fellow green-jacket winners that he was “done.”

“I was done at that particular time,” Woods said. “I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple years ago. I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lay down. I really couldn’t do much of anything.”

That same night, he flew to London to meet with a specialist who told him the only way to get rid of the pain that he was living in was to have spinal fusion surgery. He went to Texas to have the procedure done a few weeks later with his sole goal to “participate in life.”

“I was able to be around my kids again and go to their games and their practices, take them to school again,” Woods said. “These are all things I couldn’t do for a very long time. So golf was not in my near future or even distant future. I knew I was going to be a part of the game. But playing the game again? I couldn’t even do that with my son Charlie out in the back yard.”

Instead, Woods worked his way back to the tour. He was ranked 1,199th in the world when he resumed competition in December 2017 with no expectation for what he might accomplish. He climbed to No. 6 in the world with Sunday’s victory.

“A couple years ago after the surgeries and everything else that had happened, it was the first time in my life I’ve seen him uncertain,” said Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion. “It’s a word I would never have used with Tiger Woods, and that was the first time. It takes a very, very special human being to dig himself out and do what he did today.”

For most of the final round it looked as if neither Woods nor anyone else would be able to track down Molinari, the reigning British Open champion. Every time Woods gained ground, he’d slip back. By the time they reached the 12th tee, Woods was exactly where he was to start the day — sitting two shots behind the Italian on the same scores they finished with on Saturday.

But with the wind from an approaching storm kicking up in their face, Augusta National’s shortest hole loomed large. In front of them, both Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter hit it into Rae’s Creek and walked off with doubles.

Then Molinari – who had gone 49 consecutive holes without a bogey between the seventh hole Thursday to the seventh hole Sunday – let the door open by also hitting it into the water. Tony Finau did as well, leaving Woods the only ball dry in the middle of the green. His two-putt par combined with Molinari’s double gave Woods his first share of the lead on Sunday at the Masters since his victory in 2005.

Suddenly it was a wide-open race with Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson making their own charges to the lead and Koepka clawing his way back starting with a bounce-back eagle. The Georgia pines started percolating with eruptions of cheers around the closing holes with eagles and aces and challengers seeking a stake in the chase.

“There were so many different scenarios that could have transpired on that back nine,” Woods said. “There were so many guys that had a chance to win. Leaderboard was absolutely packed and everyone was playing well. You couldn’t have had more drama than we all had out there.”

Said Koepka: “That was probably the coolest back nine in a major championship I’ve ever been a part of, or just in golf in general. I think with so many guys going up and down, the lead’s kind of changing hands … I don’t know how it looked on TV, but it was amazing to be a part of.”

Woods and Molinari both birdied 13 to keep up with Johnson and Schauffele a couple holes in front of them. On the par-5 15th, Molinari flinched again and found the pond for another double to fall back and eventually finish in a four-way tie for fifth with Charlotte’s Webb Simpson.

“I think we picked the right shot (on 12) and just didn’t hit it hard enough, as simple as that,” said Molinari. “And it was tough today with the wind gusting, and I managed to scramble well on the front nine and I think I just had a couple of mental lapses on the back nine that were costly.”

Woods hit the 15th green in two and lagged his long putt to make birdie and take sole possession of the lead and the commotion all around Augusta National grew stronger. He stuffed his tee shot close on the par-3 16th and an audible “oh yeah” was heard from the gallery on the CBS broadcast as Woods knocked in the birdie to go two up.

Koepka made one last challenge on 18 to put the pressure on Woods, but his 8-foot birdie putt ducked below the cup. Woods used the luxury of needing bogey to win, and when he putted out from a foot he threw his arms in the air and screamed.

“We did it!” he said over and over to his caddie Joe LaCava.

Then Woods had the chance to celebrate with his family. His mother, Tida, and two kids – Sam and Charlie – greeted him behind the 18th green while the patrons packing every inch from the hole to the clubhouse chanted his name.

“Prior to comeback, (my kids) only knew that golf caused me a lot of pain,” Woods said. “If I tried to swing a club I would be on the ground, and I struggled for years, and that’s basically all they remember. Luckily I’ve had the procedure where that’s no longer the case and I can do this again. So, you know, we’re creating new memories for them, and it’s just very special.”

He’s creating new memories for new generations of players and fans.

“It was pretty cool,” said Justin Thomas, who was buying everyone in the clubhouse grill room drinks for his hole-in-one on Sunday while watching Woods finish up another historic win. “I knew he had this in him from playing with him. I knew he wanted to give us young guns, if you will, another run.”

After contending down the stretch in three consecutive majors, the conversation about Woods trying to catch Nicklaus’ record six green jackets and 18 majors now will resume in earnest. But after all the pain and doubt and hard work it took to get one more major, Woods wasn’t looking any further than what he’d just accomplished.

“You know, I really haven’t thought about that yet,” he said. “I’m sure that I’ll probably think of it going down the road. Maybe, maybe not. But right now, it’s a little soon, and I’m just enjoying 15.”