OPINION: Even though he didn’t come in first, Tiger Woods still won

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To everyone who wondered how Tiger Woods could remain sports’ most unimaginable champion, 25 years after bursting onto the scene, he just dropped bars like Roy Jones Jr.: “Y’all must’ve forgot.”

A sixth Masters Tournament title wasn’t in the cards for Woods over the weekend. He probably maxed out his limit on improbable wins in 2019, when he won a Masters green jacket for the first time in 14 years.

But victory was defined differently this year.

He won by teeing off on Thursday, a simple feat that seemed impossible after the events of Feb. 23, 2021, when a near-fatal wreck of his Genesis GV80 caused injuries that had doctors contemplating amputation for his right leg. “I wish I could tell you when I’m playing again,” he said two months ago. “… I’m still working on the walking part.”

He won by limping around Augusta National and shooting 1-under par in his first competitive round since the horrific accident. The performance left him tied for 10th place, four shots off the lead. Woods never would’ve bragged about that 20 years ago, but he knows what his leg looked like. “To see where I’ve been … to get from there to here, it was no easy task,” he said afterward.

He won by returning to the course on Friday and grinding through a rollercoaster round to make the cut. Normally a given— his 22 consecutive cuts at the Masters is one shy of the all-time record—it was anything but a certainty. His uber-competitive nature and his balky body were at war. “Well, I don’t feel as good as I would like to feel,” he said after shooting 2-over par. “That’s OK. As I said, I’ve got a chance going into the weekend.”

He won by completing the tournament, even though he shot 6-over par on Saturday and Sunday—his worst-ever rounds in Masters play. By the time he finished and walked off the 18th hole, you could tell he felt the victory. Fans applauded and cheered as if he had just captured his 16th major championship, and Woods smiled broadly in like fashion. His limp was more pronounced than it had been all weekend when he used his clubs as a cane at times. But he exuded joy, not pain.

“It was an unbelievable feeling to just have the patrons and the support out there,” he said in a TV interview afterward. “I wasn’t exactly playing my best out there, but to just have the support and appreciation from all the fans, I don’t think words can really describe that, given where I was a little over a year ago and what my prospects were at that time. To end up here and be able to play all four rounds, even a month ago, I didn’t know if I could pull this off.”

We’re not sure anyone else could’ve done it.

Nothing moves the needle like “the Tiger Effect,” which sends shockwaves throughout golf’s fan base. On a micro level, it’s a good bet that most Black fans today sprouted with Woods’ emergence, and many are less likely to watch a tournament if he’s not playing. It’s just not the same.

Woods hasn’t changed the course of humanity like his father wildly predicted or led to a wave of Black golfers on the PGA Tour. Both of those asks were too much, given mankind’s cruelty and golf’s elitism. But there’s no denying his 2022 Masters is as impressive as anything he’s accomplished because no one saw it coming after everything he’s been through physically and emotionally (much of it self-inflicted).

The odds are against Woods winning another major championship (he has 15). He’s unlikely to achieve his childhood goal of eclipsing Jack Nicklaus (18 major titles). Woods’ leg and back might prevent him from even seriously contending again. But it won’t be from lack of effort.

“This week I will try and get ready for (the PGA Championship), and we’ll see what this body is able to do,” he said after Sunday’s round.

Nowadays, it’s a victory if he shows up.

In which case, we all win.

Story Credit: Deron Snyder is a veteran journalist, stratcomm professional, author, and adjunct professor

Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP photo/thegrio