Tiger Woods summoned all the might of his wearying body, drew on unfathomable desire and steel, unmatched experience and evoked bottomless nostalgia to win at Augusta for the first time in 14 years and seal a return to the pinnacle of sport on what, once the dust has settled, will live on as one of the great Sundays in Masters history.
After the squalid unravelling, the strife and spinal fusion surgeries, the 43-year-old beat away the rain and tides and capitalised on the mistakes of his peers until the very last were swept away. A two-under-par 70, a fifth Green Jacket and a 15th major to complete one of the most iconic comebacks, fit to rival Lazarus and forever live amongst the sporting Gods.
But if victory evoked feelings of old, it was hardly of the same flight as the runaway conquest witnessed in Georgia 22 years ago. It was instead a gruelling battle of attrition from the very first hole as the players headed out early in three-balls to beat the incoming thunderstorms.
And, from thereon, the final day lead exchanged hands between any number of players within a feasible grasp of the Green Jacket like an unwanted burden. At one stage, Woods, Francesco Molinari, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Shauffele batted it between themselves with the twists and sudden endings of a crime drama script allowing even the unheralded and torturously slow Patrick Cantlay to take hauntingly brief charge of the leaderboard and threaten to leave the world drowned in anti-climax.
It had at first seemed as though fate was conspiring against Woods. A front-nine which fired only in fits and spurts left the crowd in collective sighs as each putt trickled just centimetres short of the hole. But after a hat-trick of birdies and bogeys, the 43-year-old finally fizzed into life with the devastating precision of old as those around him cratered. A methodical birdie at the 13th took him into a share of the lead, there was the calm restraint to take a two-putt birdie on the 15th as those around him threw Hail Mary’s and Molinari’s hopes plunged into the water.
But if we were ever able to revel in and revisit the world of Woods’ one-man serenades again, it came on the par-3 16th. Having drummed all but the ice-laden veins of Koepka into defeat, Woods’ tee-shot pitched on the slope high above the hole and began its slow winding descent. At that second, not a single breath was taken around Augusta.
Eventually, one of the most staggering moments was denied by just a couple of inches, but the birdie would send Woods two-shots clear with two-to-play. From thereon, there was never any letting go of history. It may not have seized in the same blistering style but, as always, he had timed his strike to the scent of the rest’s weakness. They faltered, and then watched on in awe.
On the par-3 16th, after moving into the outright lead, Woods pitched his tee-shot above the hole, let it run back with the slope and was only denied a hole-in-one by inches to go two clear with two to play. From there on, his iron-grip never showed a glimpse of letting go. The crowd no longer blowing him forward, but struck in breathless awe. It was vintage Tiger Woods, capitalising at the precise moment that his competitors showed weakness.
It was a tragic and cruel end for Molinari who had fended away the furore in such blasé fashion yesterday before crumbling at the jaws of Amen Corner. So relentlessly metronomic has the Italian been all week, once the nerves finally coursed and cracked his statuesque expression, he could never recover.
They set in at the tenth, as he managed to renavigate a wild hook by almost chipping in from the pine-straw. But by the 12th – an at-first-glance innocuous par-3 by way of Augusta’s treachery – Molinari could no longer outrun the sense of his own mortality. A cautious swing and the ball tumbled into the bank and trickled into the water with slow-motion cruelty.
The Italian’s two-shot lead had melted, his drives sliced right and even his putter began to betray him. A miscued approach from just 79 yards on the 15th left him swimming once again and any flickering hopes were condemned to an ending deserving of more dignity. At Carnoustie, Molinari had bypassed Woods’ existence. This time, it was too great to ignore. For the coolest player on the golf course, the grimace he wore told that it had all suddenly become too much.
Schauffele, Johnson and Koepka’s late charges all took them to within touching distance. But they baulked whenever Woods’ aura came into the crosshairs. Even as he narrowly missed his birdie putt on the 17th, with victory all but secure, Woods still flashed that cold, hollow Medusa-like glint in the eye. The invincibility that had deserted him for the best part of a decade.
As the final putt fell on the 18th green to add another smothering layer to his legacy and dispel oh so many demons, Woods unleashed a cathartic and deafening roar, looked to the skies and beat his fits at it as the swirl of raw joy and relief began to take hold.
The sweetest victory of his career to complete of one of sport’s greatest and most romantic comebacks - 11 years after winning his last major, nine after his marriage ended in humiliation and less than two since his face was plastered across the world’s front pages after being arrested with a delirious concoction of prescription drugs in his system - ending where it all began 22 years ago; in the arms of a family member. Then it was his father, this time it was his son. An act on the stage of Augusta’s 18th which will forever be immortalised.
Tiger Woods has reclaimed his old world and, perhaps, the greatest testament was that today everyone was glad to simply have part in it.