Golf highlights of 2019: Tiger Woods wins The Masters

Tiger Woods ends an 11-year wait for major number 15
Tiger Woods ends an 11-year wait for major number 15

Maybe it hit you at the 12th, maybe it hit you at the 15th, maybe it hit you at the 18th. But at some stage, it hit you.

Tiger Woods is going to win The Masters.

It had been possible all week, but far enough away to remain illusory, as though every time he got close enough to make us all believe, something would happen to tell us to stop being so stupid. On Thursday night we had to reconcile the fact that in shooting 70, he'd taken one too many shots. On Friday, it was that Brooks Koepka held the lead. Come Saturday, it was Francesco Molinari. Tiger was back contending at Augusta and for that and nothing more we would have to be thankful.

Steadily, though, things began to happen. Molinari did not press on as many had expected - perhaps there was something different about being here, alongside Woods, than there had been when the Italian comprehensively won their battle at Carnoustie the summer before. Koepka did not charge. Schauffele faltered, Finau flattered to deceive. The rain, the early start... something strange was afoot as we crept towards the turn, waiting for a sign. Was this what we thought it might be, or was it something else?

***

Shortly after 5.30pm in the UK, Molinari hit his tee-shot to the 12th hole into Rae's Creek.

We had already seen Koepka suffer the same fate, and after Molinari dusted himself down to make double-bogey, soon came a birdie for Schauffele, an eagle for Cantlay, an eagle for Koepka; a run from Day, another from Watson, an ace up ahead from Thomas; Johnson flying, Cantlay now flapping.

Golf doesn't always have a second gear, but this was whirlwind. Molinari had carved open the chest of the tournament and blood was pumping all over the place. Augusta became momentarily unhinged, lemmings on ladders racing up and down to keep those grand, green-and-white scoreboards in the game.

And then, one hour after Molinari's mistake, Tiger Woods hit the first of two shots which ended the madness and began the delirium.

Since he returned to the sport in late-2017, and throughout a 2018 campaign which culminated in that burning East Lake success, Woods had been able to remind us that he remains the best iron player in the sport. For all his impressive swing speed, for all that he remained effective on the greens, it was his approach play which he would have to rely on to compete with the likes of Koepka.

The question was whether he could call upon it when he needed; whether he could still force and bend and flight and drop that golf ball to his will under the uniquely intense pressure of major championship golf. Carnoustie raised more questions than answers, Bellerive was not quite conclusive; only now, as Tiger stood over his second to the 15th, would we know for sure.

After a long-iron to the heart of the green, it felt a foolish question to ever have asked. Of course the greatest player in the history of the sport could remember how to do what he'd always done better than anyone else; of course he had been able to land the ball precisely where he had intended to; of course he made a complicated thing look simple to take the lead on his own.

The second and fatal blow came at the 16th, the scene of that famous chip-in against Chris DiMarco, perhaps the most replayed shot of his career. This time, there would be no need for all that. Woods simply stood up and hit his spot once again, allowing the contours of his favourite playground to deliver his ball to the side of the hole. Major number 15 had almost been won, and he hadn't needed to hole a putt.

If any doubt remained - and, really, it did not - then Woods' drive at the 17th hole ushered it away. He knew it as well as we did: this was his tournament to lose, and Tiger Woods does not lose tournaments. Not here, and not from here. This would be a thousand-yard victory lap; pop the cork, tweet the gif, cry a little. Remember this. Remember every second of this.

Tiger Woods is going to win The Masters.

Despite a flared drive at the final hole it was, if viewed in isolation, so much less dramatic than 2005, so much less dramatic than the US Open of 2008, but 11 years had gone into reaching 15 majors, and there was no need for drama now. This was a time for celebration, and it came in a roar from a Tiger no longer tamed. He had done it. Somehow, he had done it.

In your life, you'd seen something like that, but nothing like this.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods: The 2019 Masters champion

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