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The greatest sporting comeback in history almost happened

Eight years. Seven months. 26 days. That has been the time since Tiger Woods’ life changed forever. That fateful Thanksgiving weekend has been written about to death and there is not much left that no one has not heard about already. The private life misdemeanours, the shame with which he has had to live since 2009 and more importantly, the personal turmoil he has faced has been one of the hardest things to watch for a fan of great athletes. People will say he is the reason for his own downfall, and they may well be right. People will say he is deserving of the terrible abuse he has received at times, and the cruel individuals in our world will say they are right. Injuries and other indiscretions have seen his fall from grace be publicised like no other. Despite all of these ‘mistakes’, sporting tragic like myself always wanted to see Woods reach the pinnacle of his sport once again. And today, Woods almost made that a reality with a thrilling run at The Open, which Francesco Molinari deservedly won. So he did not win. But, the journey from his 14th major title at Torrey Pines in 2008 to now has been one hell of a ride, that is for sure.

Every athlete in their desire to become the best at their sport will face adversity. There can be no doubt about that. The only unique things to every athlete will be as to what that adversity is, when they face that adversity and their attitude towards that adversity. In Woods’ case, he had to face adversity from a very early age. Golf was a sport dominated by the rich, white corporate individual. It seemed that there was no place for a black kid to enter the sport’s gates and become the best in the business. Thanks to the ‘standard operating procedure’ type lifestyle designed by his father Earl Woods, Tiger became completely immune to every difficulty he faced on the course. Added to the racist chants against him, Tiger also had to face something that not many people know about. At his first Masters, Tiger received several death threats, but that is the least staggering part about this story. What would usually happen is that the athlete or person would report this and the police would take further investigation into their own hands. However, Tiger made sure to frame all these death threats and look at them every day. They added fuel to the fire. That fire which helped him become the best golfer in the world, and for a stretch between 1999 and 2001, produce the most scintillating rounds of golf week in week out. Winning became a habit, and each win signaled another victory against a death threat in his mind. That intensity of thought was evident this week at Carnoustie in his eyes. Every birdie putt did not bring about a smile, just a more steely resolve to produce the same at the next hole. It did not bring a 15th major title to his cabinet, but many people who had written off Tiger to win another major have now changed their stance to 'he could win again'. That for fans like myself is a major victory for the American.

Tiger Woods

Along with facing adversity in whatever form, every athlete will face the fear and pain of injury at least once in their career. Tiger has been no exception to this trend, and in fact, he has had a hugely unfortunate series of injuries to contend with. Back surgeries, hip surgeries, and shoulder surgeries. Name one injury and Tiger will have probably had it at some point since his arrival onto the scene in 1996. Again, people will say that the greatest golfer of the last 20 years bought this on himself. His insatiable desire to become a Navy Seal saw him go through extreme workouts, which were simply not needed for a golfer trying to stay at the top of his game. There came a point in 2015 where he said in an interview that ‘today was the first time in a while I walked the whole course.’ For someone who would run five miles a day during his peak years to say that just showed how much of a toll, the injuries had taken. Even this year has seen Tiger comeback from an injury layoff and another change in his swing saw many people roll their eyes. “We have heard this all before, but he will not win another major.” That was the thought of many golf pundits around the world, but this week showed that things can be different. Tiger has had a few exceptional results this year considering all that he has faced in the past few years, and this could just be the start of something very special.

So, a 15th major title continues to elude Tiger and the cynics and the skeptics will continue to say that he has not killed off his demons. But in this past week at Carnoustie, the world has seen just how important Tiger is to golf and sport as a whole. He transcends his sport in a way few others can compare, and it may not be long before he can add a 15th major to his illustrious trophy cabinet.