In July 2017, Tiger Woods arranged for his two kids to meet Argentine forward Lionel Messi while Barcelona were in Florida for a pre-season match.
Recounting the experience, Woods said to his daughter, Sam, and son, Charlie, “Isn’t it neat to meet a living legend?”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “We live with one.”
That is part of what made Woods’s victory at the Masters in April so special. Until he achieved one of the greatest comebacks in all of sports, Woods’ offspring knew their 43-year-old dad as a living legend only through YouTube clips. His daughter was just born when her dad won the last of his then 14 majors, but was too young to remember it.
Until Tiger’s victory at the Tour Championship in September, Charlie was still a toddler at the time of his dad’s previous win at the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
Let the legend grow were the famous words uttered by Tiger’s father, Earl, and those words gained new meaning as Woods emerged from a jam-packed leaderboard as the winner of his first major in nearly 11 years, his fifth green jacket, major No. 15 and 81st PGA Tour title.
“It’s like the moon landing,” said PGA CEO Seth Waugh.
We’ll never forget. Rory McIlroy watched the last five holes from his rental home in Augusta with wife Erica and they both broke into tears when Woods hugged his kids coming off the 18th green.
“It was emotional,” McIlroy said on the Rory and Carson Podcast. “It felt like going back in time.”
At the 2008 US Open, at age 32, Woods had won his 14th major, a milestone Nicklaus didn’t reach until he was 35. But then Woods lost his marriage, reputation, his iconic status, and his health.
He pleaded guilty to reckless driving and was found to have taken a potentially lethal cocktail of drugs when he was behind the wheel. Desperate for relief from troubling back pain, he underwent a spinal fusion.
“Instant relief,” he posted on Twitter on May 24, 2017.
Woods is the Humpty Dumpty of golf, who sat on a wall, dominating golf with 14 major titles among his 79 tour wins. From July 2006 to May 2010, Woods won 47% of the time he teed it up. He finished inside the top 10 in 85% of his starts. Then he had a great fall. And while at first all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put him together again, Woods now appears to be a patched-up medical marvel.
“He’s like a Bionic Man,” Nick Faldo said.
“I still don’t think people understand what he did in April and coming back with everything that he’s been through,” McIlroy said on Tuesday. “It’s unbelievable. Whether it’s the greatest comeback in sports, that’s probably for debate, but from what I’ve experienced and the things that he said when I’ve been around him, to be looking like maybe not playing golf again to winning the first major of the year and being the favorite going into the second major of the year, I mean, that’s unbelievable.”
Thomas Friedman, a political columnist at The New York Times, may have put it in context best.
“If I think of the news I normally cover, it would be as if Bill Clinton came back and defeated Donald Trump for president in 2020. Or, in technology, it’s the equivalent of Steve Jobs founding Apple, losing Apple and then coming back and winning all four “technology majors’’ — the Apple desktop, laptop, iPhone and iPad — with a reborn Apple,” Friedman wrote.
The question is what will Woods do now as an encore? No one has ever won more than one major after the age of 43. Woods has to go into waters where no one has ever ventured before. But he’s the one guy you don’t count out. He’s always broken new ground. He needs four more majors, or McIlroy’s career total, to break the record held by Nicklaus.
“I felt for a long time he was going to win again,” Nicklaus told Golf Channel the night Woods won the Masters.
The odd wayward drive didn’t severely punish Woods at Augusta National, but that may not be the case here at Bethpage Black, where the rough is more penal.
Woods has an affinity for the place having won the 2002 US Open and finished tied for sixth in the 2009 Open here. In June, Pebble Beach celebrates its 100th anniversary as site of the US Open, where Woods recorded his most lopsided victory, bettering the next best finisher by 15 strokes. The Open Championship at Royal Portrush should fit his eye and allow Woods to pick it apart without bashing driver.
“It’s great to be part of the narrative,” Woods said on Tuesday in his first public comments since the Masters. “Whether I’m dominant or not going forward, that remains to be seen. What I know is I need to give myself the best chance to win the events that I play in, and sometimes that can be taking a little bit more breaks here and there and making sure that I am ready to go and being able to give it my best at those events.”
No matter what he does from here, he’s already written an incredible story of redemption.
He showed his children and a new generation of golfers and fans just what a living legend really looks like.