Career Timeline: Is Tiger Woods’ Masters win the biggest comeback in sporting history?


Tiger Woods just won his 15th major title at Augusta National, and it will go down in history as one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time

The crowd were eurphoric as Tiger Woods holed a short putt to become the 2019 Masters Champion, making history by earning his fifth green jacket and 15th major title at Augusta National on Sunday.

He raised his arms up in triumph and roared as the patrons chanted his name, but among the overzealous clapping and shouting there was a feeling of signifance that stretched far beyond just the biggest name in golf winning the first major of the year. 

Having gone from the most dominant force in the game to being unable to move without pain and now back to winning one of the biggest prizes in golf, his win surely is punctuated with a deserved, worthy accolade – the biggest comeback in sporting history.

Given how he performed over the week it’s almost easy to forget that less than two years ago Tiger Woods withdrew from this very event to have a fourth back surgery – this time to fuse his spine, and there were doubts whether he could ever have a good quality of life, let alone be able to play golf and compete at the highest level. 

You have to go back 11 years to the 2008 US Open when he won his last major – and that was a memorable one in itself, having won the emotional title with a tear in his ACL. 

He continued to battle a variety of problems in his body and surgery became a go-to, until a decision to go back under the knife in 2017 changed everything. 

Of course, injury was only part of his fall from the highest graces of the game as his less than pristine private life became a regular media feature.

But since his return last year, Woods has seemed a different person, as well as a different player. 

For Woods, the victory is one that feels like it has come full circle. He claimed his first green jacket and maiden major title on the 18th green at Augusta National 22 years ago, and it seemed a fitting place to earn his major comeback title.

“You know, just the whole tournament has meant so much to me over the years,” Woods said after his win. “Coming here in ’95 for the first time, and being able to play as an amateur; winning in ’97, and then come full circle, 22 years later, to be able to do it again, and just the way it all transpired today.

“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.”

A career timeline of unparalelled success, injury, despair and hope: To consider whether Tiger’s comeback is the best in sporting history, we first have to consider how good it was and how bad it got

The Rise to the top

August 1996: Turns Professional and is named PGA Rookie of the year.

April 1997: Wins first major title at Masters by greatest margin in history, as well as becoming the youngest-ever-winner 

June 1997: At 21 years, 24 weeks, he becomes the youngest player become the World No.1

August 1999: Wins second major at PGA championship.

June 2000: Wins US Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 strokes

July 2000: Completes Career Grand Slam with British Open win by eight strokes in St Andrews

September 2000: Signs $85million endoresment deal with Nike

June 2002: Wins his second U.S. Open.

The beginning of a lot of surgery but still winning majors 

December 2002: Has Surgery on left knee to remove fluid inside and outside the ACL and remove benign cysts from his left knee

December 2003: Named PGA Player of the Year for the fifth straight year.

May 2005: Misses cut at Byron Nelson Championship. It is the first time since 1998 that Woods fails to make the weekend.

November 2005: Wins PGA Grand Slam of Golf for a record-breaking sixth time.

July 2006: Wins third British Open.

August 2006: Wins third PGA Championship.

August 2007: Wins fourth PGA Championship.

More surgery and the public demise of his private life

April 2008: Has third surgery on left knee to repair cartilage damage two days after the Masters

May 2008: Advised weeks before the U.S. Open that he has two stress fractures of the left tibia and should rest for six weeks, the first three weeks on crutches.

June 2008: Eight days after winning the U.S. Open with ACL injury he has surgery to repair it. Misses the rest of the season.

December 2008: Injured his Achilles tendon in his right leg as he was running while preparing to return to golf.

November 2009: Hospitalized overnight with a sore neck and a cut lip that required five stitches when the SUV he was driving ran over a fire hydrant and into a tree – a personal scandal was later revealed. 

February 2010: Makes a televised statement apologizing for being unfaithful to his wife and letting down both fans and family.

May 2010: Withdrew from the final round of The Players Championship, citing a bulging disk. He later said it was a neck issue that caused tingling in his right side, and that it first became a problem as he began practicing harder for his return to the Masters a month earlier.

Injury woes, caddie relationship ends and a tumble down the world rankings

October 2010: After 281 straight weeks, the longest in Official World Golf Ranking history, Woods loses his No. 1 ranking to Lee Westwood.

April 2011: Injures his left Achilles tendon hitting from an awkward stance below Eisenhower’s Tree on the 17th at Augusta National. Withdraws from the Wells Fargo Championship.

May 2011: Withdraws from The Players Championship after a 42 on the front nine. Diagnosed with an MCL sprain in his left knee and in his left Achilles tendon. He misses the next two months, including two majors, returning at the Bridgestone Invitational.

June 2011: Withdraws from U.S Open due to knee and achilles injuries 

July 2011: Ends 12-year relationship with caddie Steve Williams.

August 2011: After a nearly three-month break, Woods returns to pro golf at the Bridgestone Invitational.

August 2011: Plays his worst first round of golf in a major championship and misses the cut at the PGA Championship.

October 2011: For the first time in 15 years, Woods fails to make the top 50 in the OWGR list.

A quick upturn with multiple broken records and majors

December 2011: Wins the Chevron World Challenge, though not a PGA Tour event, his first win since November 2009.

March 2012: Shoots a 62 at the Honda Classic at PGA National, his lowest final round as a professional, but ties for second in the tournament.

March 2012:  Earns his first PGA Tour win, in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, since September 2009.

June 2012: Ties Jack Nicklaus on 73 PGA Tour victories at the Memorial Tournament.

July 2012: Beats Nicklaus’ PGA Tour record with the AT&T National win. Woods’ 74th PGA Tour win ranks him in second place for the all-time list behind Sam Snead with 82 wins.

August 2012: Moves stiffly during the second round of The Barclays and later says he felt pain in his lower back, which he attributed to a soft mattress in his hotel room.

September 2012: Becomes the first PGA Tour golfer to earn $100 million.

January 2013: Wins 75th PGA tour title.

March 2013: Wins the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time, and regains the OWGR’s No. 1 spot.

May 2013: – Wins his 78th PGA tour title at the Players Championship.

June 2013: Is seen shaking his left arm during the opening round of the U.S. Open. He later says it’s a left elbow strain that he injured while winning The Players Championship a month earlier. He misses two tournaments and returns at the British Open.

August 2013: Wins 79th PGA Tour title at the Bridgestone Invitational.

August 2013: Said he felt tightness in his back during the final round of the PGA Championship. Two weeks later at the Barclays he drops to his knees with back spasms. 

March 2014: Withdraws after 13 holes of the final round at The Honda Classic because of lower back pain and spams, describing it as similar to what he felt at The Barclays.

March 2014: Plays the final 12 holes with pain in his lower back, saying it began to flare up after hitting out of the bunker from an awkward lie in the Cadillac Championship at Doral. He shoots 78, the highest score of his career in a final round.

March 2014: Withdraws from the Arnold Palmer Invitational because of the persistent pain in his back. He was the two-time defending champion.

Multiple surgeries stop him playing for extended periods of time

March 2014: Has surgery in Utah for a pinched nerve.

April 2014: Announced he will miss the Masters and not return to golf until the summer.

August 2015: Woods posts a top-10 finish at his debut at the Wyndham Championships, but ends his season as the 257th ranked player in the world. It was his third consecutive missed cut in a major.

September 2015: Underwent a second micro-discectomy surgery two days earlier to remove a disc fragment that was pinching his nerve.

October 2015: Woods has a procedure to “relieve discomfort” in his back and sets no timetable for his return to the PGA Tour.

December 2015: Woods announces a third microdiscectomy surgery — a procedure to remove bone around a pinched nerve to allow space for it to heal — and admits he is unsure when he will be back on the course.

July 2016: It is announced that Woods will miss the PGA Championship due to his continued recovery from back surgery. It’s the first time in his pro career that he has missed all four major championships.

December 2016: Woods finishes 14 shots behind the winner in the Hero World Challenge, his first competitive event in more than a year.

January 2017: WD’s from first round of Dubai Desert Classic with injury

February 2017:: MC at Farmers Insurance Open

April 2017: Woods undergoes a fourth back surgery. The spinal fusion, labeled “a success” was to alleviate pain he had been experiencing in his back and leg.

Recovery from injury, arrest and uncertainty over future

May 2017: Woods is arrested on suspicion of DUI in Jupiter, Fla. He says in a statement that he had “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications” and that alcohol was not involved.

June 2017: Woods announces that he is receiving professional help to manage medication for back pain and a sleep disorder.

July 2017Woods announces that he has completed an intensive program for managing his medications.

September 2017: Woods says “I don’t know what my future holds for me” at Presidents Cup 

A successful return

December 2017: Making his long-awaited return from a fourth back surgery— his first tournament for 301 days since pulling out of the Dubai Desert Classic in February— Woods finishes in a tie for ninth place in his Hero World Challenge tournament in the Bahamas.

March 2018: Comes close to winning at the Valspar Invitational and Arnold Palmer Invitational, finishing in the top-five of each event.

April 2018: Struggles in his return to the Masters and settles for T-32.

June 2018: Woods begins the U.S. Open with a triple-bogey on the first hole and never recovers. He misses the cut.

July 2018: A strong run at Carnoustie excites the golf world, but Woods cannot overcome Francesco Molinari. He finishes T-6.

August 2018: The comeback continues with another close call at the PGA Championship. Woods was solid at -14, but lost to Brooks Koepka by two shots.

September 2018: Woods is named to the U.S. Ryder Cup team as a player and reaches the Tour Championship ranked No. 20 in the FedEx Cup Standings. He nearly wins the FedEx Cup with his victory at the Tour Championship, his first PGA Tour triumph in 1,876 days and the 80th of his career.

November 2018: Finishes one shot behind Phil Mickelson on the 22nd hole in their winner-take-all, $9 million match in Las Vegas. Despite a major snafu with the pay-per-view delivery, the event is considered a success and will likely resume in some form in 2019.

December 2018: Completes the Hero World Challenge in 17th place out of 18 golfers in the Bahamas.

January 2019: Closes with a 5-under 67 in the final round of the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He ends the event at 10-under and tied for 20th.

February 2019: After his tournament at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles is given “Invitational” status starting in 2020, Woods completes a long and grueling stretch in the Genesis Open, playing the final two rounds at 65 and 72. He finished T15 in the event hosted by and held to benefit his foundation.

February 2019: In his first competitive event ever in Mexico, Woods battles throughout the weekend and shows a bit of his old self before settling for a T10 finish. It was his first top-10 finish of 2019 and left him No. 12 in the world.

March 2019: Woods announces that he will not be playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament in Orlando because of a previously undisclosed neck strain.

March 2019: Finishes T30 in the Players Championship after closing with a 69.

April 2019: Woods wins 15th major title.

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