Tiger Woods timeline: The historic journey from back surgery to roadside arrest to Masters champion again

Lawrence Ostlere
The Independent

It’s been a long and tumultuous road back to the top. But last night, against all expectation, Tiger Woods made history at The Masters as he sealed one of the greatest comebacks in history.

Here, we take a look at the highs and lows:

July 2008: The US Open champion, Torrey Pines. Tiger Woods is standing on the 18th green wearing familiar red, holding his 14th major trophy as the Californian sun begins to fade. His knee has been giving him hell all week and his titanic battle with the golf course, his rivals and his own body has taken a toll, only ending after sudden death against Rocco Mediate. “It’s my greatest ever championship,” declares an exhausted Woods. “It’s the best of the 14 because of all the things that have gone on over the past week.” He skips the rest of the season to get surgery.

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February 2010: The Sunset Room at TPC Sawgrass, Florida. Woods steps up to a podium wearing an oversized blazer and a harrowed expression, both designed to portray vulnerability and garner sympathy. He begins glancing nervously at the media around as he reads from his sheets of paper before fixing his eyes on the camera in front of him. “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did was not acceptable and I am the only person to blame. I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in.”

March 2013: The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Florida. A content Woods is sitting in front of the press having just won his third tournament of the year to finally reclaim his place as world No 1. He breaks into a broad smile as a journalist asks him how long it’s been since he felt this good. “It’s been a few years.” Nike, who stuck by Woods through the break-up of his marriage, release an advert celebrating his return to the top of the rankings with the slogan: “Winning takes care of everything.”

August 2013: The 13th fairway of Liberty National, New Jersey. As Woods plays his approach he feels pain shooting through his back, and he crumples to his knees. With a grimace he finishes the round, bending down to pull his ball out of the cup like an old man who’s dropped his glasses. It is only the start.

April 2017: Spinal fusion surgery at the Texas Back Institute, Dallas. Woods is lying on the operating table in a hospital gown, out cold. The surgeon cuts an incision into his abdomen about the diameter of a golf hole. He delves inside, easing organs and muscle out of the way, and screws a bone graft between two vertebrae at the base of the spine. This is Woods’ fourth operation on his back: he has spent weeks at a time slumped on his sofa barely able to stand, such is the pain, and days earlier he needed a nerve blocker just to attend the Masters pre-tournament Champions’ Dinner. At the age of 41 this is just about the last shot at rebuilding his body.

May 2017: Jupiter Police Department, Florida. Woods stares through the camera and out the other side. His eyelids hang heavy under the weight of a cocktail of drugs including marijuana, painkillers and sleeping tablets. The photo will reverberate around the world, along with dashcam footage of one of the world’s once-great athletes barely able to walk in a straight line. A couple of months later Woods admits for the first time that he may never play golf again.

November 2017: Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course, Bahamas. Woods launches yet another comeback – this is his fourth since first undergoing back surgery. He enters into the tournament that he himself has organised – “I would like to thank the committee of one,” he jokes – before finishing 15th out of a 17-man field. He will surely never win another major tournament again, but it is great for golf to have him back competing with a generation of players who grew up idolising him.

April 2019: The Masters champion, Augusta National. Woods is standing on the 18th green wearing a familiar green of his own, holding his 15th major trophy as the Georgian sun dims. Eleven years after the last one, through four back operations, a personal life ripped up and rebuilt and ripped up all over again, a career consigned to past tense, he is a major champion once more. “I missed a couple of years of this great tournament and to now be the champion... 22 years between [my first and last] wins is a long time,” he says.

“This jacket sure is comfortable.”

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