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Tiger Woods wins the Masters to claim 15th major and seal greatest comeback

The Independent logo The Independent 14/04/2019 Tom Kershaw
a man in a red shirt is jumping in front of a crowd © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

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 the greatest Sunday 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 a Lazarus-like comeback that will forever live amongst the sporting Gods.

Starting early in the final group, the lead was initially exchanged like an unwanted burden as the players started early to beat the incoming thunderstorms. At one stage, Woods, Francesco Molinari, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson and Xander Shauffele batted it between themselves with the twists and sudden endings of a crime drama script as even Patrick Cantlay to a hauntingly brief charge of the leaderboard and threatened to leave the world drowned in anti-climax.

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But it was Woods, who after starting in fits and spurts, fizzed into life on the back nine as those around him cratered. It had at first seemed as if fate had conspired to pull at the heartstring as his putts repeatedly trickled centimetres short and left the crowd in fits of sighs as they attempted to blow him over the line.

But after a turbulent 10 holes featuring three birdies and three bogeys, Woods evoked the devastating precision of old. A methodical birdie at the 13th to move into a share of the lead, a calmness to take a two-putt birdie on the 15th as Molinari’s hopes sank in the water.

On the par-3 16, after moving into the outright lead, Woods pitched his tee-shot above the hole, let it ran 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 evoked vintage Tiger Woods, capitalising at the precise moment that his competitors showed weakness to complete perhaps the greatest comeback in the history of sport.

a man that is standing in the water: Woods makes a crucial birdie at the 16th (EPA) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Woods makes a crucial birdie at the 16th (EPA)

It was a tragic and cruel end for Molinari who had batted away the furore in such blasé fashion yesterday, before crumbling in 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.

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They set in at 10, as he recovered from a wild hook to almost chip 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 that tumbled into the bank a long way short of the green, rolled into the water with slow-motion cruelty. His two-shot lead had melted, his drives sliced right and even his putter began to betray him as the Italian wore a grimace that told of the world’s weight on his shoulders. In the end, for the coolest player week-long, it all became too much. At the 15th, a fatted approach to the par-5 splashed into the water and his hopes were gone. In the end, for the coolest player on the golf course, it suddenly all became too much.

a person in a red shirt is jumping in the air: Woods celebrates on the 18th (AP) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Woods celebrates on the 18th (AP)

Schauffele, Johnson and Koepka’s respective late charges took them to within touching distance. But they could never pierce Woods famed aura of invincibility. That cold, hollow glint in the eye as he narrowly missed for a birdie on the 17th. As he stood on the 18th green, over the putt that adds another layer to his legacy, and dispels oh so many demons, it was an overwhelming mixture of joy and relief, so dizzy any other man might have fainted. Not Woods though. He looked to the sky, unleashed a cathartic and deafening roar, beat his fists at it and held back the tears as it started to sink in.

The sweetest victory of his career, at the greatest Masters in history to surpass even Jack Nicklaus in 1986, and complete an iconic comeback that will forever be immortalised

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