AUGUSTA Ga. (Reuters) - With the cool stroke of a putter under ominous clouds hovering over the 18th green at Augusta National, Tiger Woods put an emphatic finishing touch on the most redemptive victory in sport history on Sunday.
While the scene was a familiar one since Woods came into the week with four Green Jackets, this one was the most improbable given it followed years of surgeries and personal problems that convinced many the best golfer of his generation was done.
But the 43-year-old Woods, who two years ago was barely hitting 60-yard shots as he worked his way back from spinal fusion surgery in April 2017, turned back the clock to deliver the sporting world a tale of redemption unlike any other.
"I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple years ago. I could barely walk. I couldn't sit. Couldn't lay down. I really couldn't do much of anything," said Woods.
"Luckily I had the procedure on my back, which gave me a chance at having a normal life. But then all of a sudden, I realised I could actually swing a golf club again.
"I felt if I could somehow piece this together that I still had the hands to do it. The body's not the same as it was a long time ago, but I still have good hands."
When his tap-in bogey settled in the cup for a one-shot win, Woods threw up his arms in triumph, igniting chants of "Tiger Tiger" that bounced through the pines as he went on to share celebratory hugs with his mother, two children and girlfriend.
The moment was a long time coming for the former world number one, who last tasted major success at the 2008 U.S. Open when his oldest child, daughter Sam, was still an infant.
Since that day, Woods went through a highly-public divorce in 2010 after revelations of his marital infidelities convinced him to take a self-imposed hiatus from professional golf, a DUI arrest in 2017 as well as multiple knee and back surgeries.
'STRUGGLED FOR YEARS'
Ever since Woods appeared on television's Mike Douglas Show at the age of two displaying his raw putting skills alongside Bob Hope, he has been expected to produce the remarkable.
And while the list of remarkable feats that Woods went on to achieve on the golf course is seemingly never ending, even he admitted this triumph, which drew congratulatory messages from U.S. President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama, is among the most special.
"It would be up there," Woods said when asked where his latest major ranks. "One of the hardest I have ever had to win just because what has transpired the last couple years with trying to come back to playing."
Woods was two back of overnight leader Francesco Molinari when he stepped up to the par-four 11th, which marks the start of a five-hole stretch at Augusta National where the year's first major often hangs in the balance.
After yet another errant tee shot, Woods recovered with a skillful approach at 11 for par then moved into a share of the lead at the par-three 12th where Molinari made double-bogey after his tee shot went into Rae's Creek.
From there Woods, clad in his familiar final-round red shirt and black pants and the galleries hanging on his every swing, was off to the races as he showcased his competitive nerve to win a major for the first time while trailing after 54 holes.
To do so, Woods had to fend off a slew of big-name players who at some point over the back nine either held a share of the lead or were just a shot back.
Woods said one of the things he was most happy about was that his children, who were at last year's British Open when he could not hang onto a back-nine lead, were able to witness it in person after watching him fight pain for so long.
"The kids are starting to understand how much this game means to me, and some of the things I've done in the game; prior to comeback, they only knew that golf caused me a lot of pain," said Woods.
"If I tried to swing a club I would be on the ground and I struggled for years, and that's basically all they remember.
With the win Woods broke Gary Player's record (13 years) for the longest gap between Masters wins. It also breathed new life into a decades-long debate about whether the 15-times major winner can catch Jack Nicklaus (18) on the all-time list.
When he finally slipped back into the winner's Green Jacket, a scene many golf fans had longed for but never thought they would see again, Woods had just two words to say:
(Reporting by Frank Pingue, editing by Pritha Sarkar)