It’s hard not to love an underdog story. When the person counted out overcomes the odds, when the fallen from grace redeem themselves for all their doubters to see, something magical has truly occurred. We root for these people because we like it when the little guy brings down the big guy.
However, that binary is not always so simple.
Tiger Woods is perhaps the biggest star in the history of the PGA Tour. He is to golf what Lebron James and Michael Jordan are to basketball, what Wayne Gretzky is to hockey, what Muhammad Ali was to boxing. A dominating force for the first 11 years of his career, Woods seemed unstoppable, destined to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major victories and Sam Sneed’s record 82 PGA Tour victories.
Then the fall from grace came.
A car crash near his home in November 2009 revealed Woods’ countless extramarital affairs. After spending time in a clinic and finalizing a divorce from his wife Elin Nordegren, Woods failed to win another PGA event until 2012. He began missing cuts at major tournaments for the first time and underwent four separate back surgeries over the next seven years. The final surgery was Woods’ last chance at regaining his former physicality, something which even he doubted.
Then came his DUI arrest in May 2017.
Woods suffered perhaps the worst fallout of any sports superstar over the course of more than a decade. Every event, from personal injury to personal shortcoming, set him back further in the eyes of his fans and the public at large. Entering the 2019 tour season at the age of 43, the dream of surpassing Nicklaus’ record seemed all but snuffed out. Even Woods himself stated “I was done.”
But then he proved everyone wrong.
After spending some more time physically and mentally rehabbing after his tumultuous 2017, Woods finished in the top five of the last two major tournaments in 2018 (the British Open and the PGA Championship). He capped off the year with a victory at the Tour Championship, his first PGA win since 2013.
With each successive tournament from the Open onward, Woods was getting closer to his elusive 80th PGA win. But no one thought he would follow what was supposedly his shining redemptive moment with an unthinkable Masters’ win.
Knowing his children Charlie and Sam were in the crowd, having never seen their father win a major tournament, Woods was determined not to come up short. After narrowly missing major wins at the PGA Championship and Open in 2018 with the children present, Woods promised “I wasn’t going to let that happen to them twice.”
Woods was the dominating force in his sport for over a decade. Courses had to be lengthened to accommodate his never before seen driving and the Stanford product could spin and steer the golf ball in ways spectators only thought possible in a video game. His heartfelt relationship with his father won the hearts of golf fans everywhere and reinvigorated a sport in desperate need of larger appeal.
How then could we ever classify Tiger as an underdog then? Is this not purely what ESPN called the “Return of the Roar”?
Of course not. Why? Because this Tiger, the Tiger that won the Masters by one stroke, is not the Tiger of old.
Woods won the 2019 Masters in come-from-behind fashion, the first time he’s ever won any tournament and not led heading into the final day. This was not anything like the Woods of old, the 1997 Masters winner that won by a jaw-dropping 12 strokes.
No, this Tiger does not impressively out-drive all of his opponents on a regular basis nor casually eagles Par 5’s with ease. This Tiger is a little older, dogged by injury and a wealth of youthful, athletic competition in the form of Rory Mcilroy, Dustin Johnson, and countless others.
There were reasons he had not won a major in so long. Many had reached the conclusion that his run of dominance was long over. Many more had counted him out from the time of the first revelations of his infidelity and serious injuries.
Woods persevered through it all and won hearts back in the process.
“I was able to be around my kids again and go to their games and practices and take them to school again,” said Woods. “These are all things I couldn’t do for a very long time.”
Woods’ commitment to righting his life and reestablishing his commitment to his family are worthy of forgiveness. His dedication to being a better role model is enough to warrant labeling him as one of the more profound underdog and redemption stories of recent history.
Tiger has shown the world what it means to overcome a variety of personal struggles, from the physical on down to the mental and emotional. The roar is indeed back: it would be silly to think Tiger has no chance at finally breaking Nicklaus’ record. He’s only getting started.
Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison