Tour Confidential: Is this the greatest victory of Tiger Woods’s career?

April 15, 2019

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss all things Tiger Woods and the Masters. Surprised? 

1. In case you missed it, Tiger Woods won the Masters; it’s his 15th major title but first since the 2008 U.S. Open. Given all Tiger has overcome in recent years — the scandal, the surgeries, the swing changes, the chip yips — is this his greatest victory?

Jon Wall, equipment editor (@jonathanrwall): Without a doubt. Woods wouldn’t give it the superlative it deserved, but nothing tops this victory. Sometimes you have to lose everything to truly realize what you had. Woods went from rock bottom back to the mountaintop. It’s nearly impossible to pull off what he accomplished on Sunday.

Jess Marksbury, associate editor (@jess_marksbury): Well said. The yearning is what makes this the greatest. Eleven long years. Just a year and a half ago it seemed impossible that Tiger could contend again. It truly is the most remarkable comeback ever. The joy and excitement we witnessed today felt like a gift. And now, here we are thinking about the possibilities of Bethpage, Pebble … it’s just awesome.

Sean Zak, associate editor (@sean_zak): Can we delineate between victory and accomplishment? I’d call it his greatest accomplishment. Greatest victory was probably that ‘97 beheading of the field.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@dylan_dethier): Thanks for that cold water, Zak. We all saw his reaction on 18. That was absolutely years in the making, and it was pure, and unbridled, and I’m glad he let himself have it. That tells you everything about this W.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@jeff_ritter): When in sports — not just golf, but any sport — has someone fought back after plummeting so far, in all possible aspects. Remember, this is Tiger’s first major title since his sex scandal, since his Achilles tear, since his knee surgery, since his chip-yips, since his mugshot and since multiple back surgeries. And after all that, he just won the freaking Masters. I think this is the greatest comeback in sports history and if you can name something better I’ll hang up and listen. This is Tiger’s finest moment.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: You can’t have this one without the first one, and the 14th one. But this was the most meaningful.

2. What will be your defining Tiger memory from this Masters Sunday?

Wall: Tiger embracing his son behind the 18th green. Nothing comes close. It’s a moment we’ll see replayed for years to come during the Masters broadcast.

Zak: How raucous he got on the 18th green! This is not a complaint at all, but I’ve seen so many reactions on this green, four of which were his, and nothing in his career has compared to his primal scream and flailing of his arms. Awesome in every way.

Marksbury: Happy Tiger is infectious. I felt the emotion of that win in a way I’ve never experienced as a viewer. Watching that incredible mix of triumph and pride and relief and exhilaration pour out as Tiger hugged his kids — I mean, I had to swallow the lump in my throat! It’s so relatable. Tiger has always been easy to root for as a dominant athlete, but the humanity he’s shown us over the last few months just makes him even more appealing.

Dethier: All good answers. But how ‘bout that shot on 16? While some contenders surged and others faded away, Tiger Woods made this tournament his with one aggressive high-draw 8-iron. He wanted so desperately for it to be good, but he also knew it was good. He thought it might be in the hole, too. That’s the shot that will endure.

Ritter: The tee ball on 16 is it for me, to. I was up in the bleachers and from that perch watched Woods hit the shot and all of Augusta will that thing down the slope. You knew he was making birdie to go two shots up. That’s when you knew this thing might really happen.

Bamberger: His genuine happiness as he came off the 18th green Friday night.

Zak: Why is Bamberger always right about this stuff? Spot on. A man having a great time competing.

Woods and caddie Joe LaCava won their first major together.
Getty Images

3. Woods now trails Jack Nicklaus’ major haul by just three. The race is officially back on! Will Tiger get to 18?

Wall: I don’t think so. He’s proven he can win again on golf’s biggest stage, but the quality level is better than ever in professional golf. If players suddenly start fretting over a tee time with Tiger as they did during Big Cat’s prime? Maybe it happens. But these kids are fearless. I don’t see him catching Jack.

Zak: Dammit, I really didn’t want to be asked this question, but I see the point. No, the answer is no. Because PGA’s are hard as hell, U.S. Opens are harder and British Opens are just a wild card. Three more majors in his 40s would be absolutely incredible. But currently, yeah, I’m still drunk on the juice and considering it.

Marksbury: I like the way a player put it in our Anonymous Pro Masters Survey: Never bet against the GOAT. Let’s say Tiger has three good years left and two so-so ones. That’s 20 major championships. The idea of three more seems feasible, especially when five of those future attempts will be at Augusta. With his newfound health and confidence, I’m not going to be the naysayer here.

Dethier: I plead the 5th. After a week spent in Tigerland, I’m in no mental or emotional state to answer this question.

Bamberger: As Nicklaus says, never underestimate this Tiger Woods. You do so at your own peril.

Ritter: Three majors is a long way to go and the odds are against it, but as we sit here tonight with all the electricity from that final round still flowing, anything seems possible.

4. Does this win make Tiger the prohibitive favorite for the PGA Championship at Bethpage next month?

Wall: There’s a hodgepodge of great players in professional golf at the moment. I honestly don’t think you can pick one as the prohibitive favorite. Tiger just won the Masters so I think by default he has to be the favorite at the PGA. If he puts on the same ball-striking clinic as he did at Augusta, he has a great chance to start the season 2-for-2.

Zak: At a course where he’s won before? That requires length and a really sound driver? My god, he’s one of the top 5 favorites, for sure. Alongside Rory, DJ, Brooks and Molinari. I won’t crown him the favorite, though.

Marksbury: YEAH! I’m all in on TW! If he was still having off-the-tee trouble, I might be more skeptical, but Tiger said this afternoon that this week was the best he’s felt with a driver in years. That’s such huge progress. I’m also encouraged by the fact that he didn’t card anything worse than a bogey this week. In recent years, big numbers have ruined his rounds. So, yeah, there’s no reason why Tiger shouldn’t be the favorite at the PGA.

Dethier: If Rory had finished second at Augusta, he’d still be considered the hottest player in the world. He didn’t finish second. Yeah, Tiger’s the favorite for the next major, even if he’s not statistically the most likely guy to win. I think DJ, Brooks, Francesco, Rory and Tiger belong together at the moment — but man, you could really keep extending that list (Rose, JT, Rahm, Bryson etc.

Ritter: Of course Tiger is the favorite! The fans will bet him up in the sportsbooks and he’s coming off the best win of his career. He loves NYC and has already bagged one major at Bethpage. I expect him to get right back in the mix.

Bamberger: No.

Tiger Woods in Butler Cabin. It's a sight we've now seen five times.
USA Today

5. Tiger wasn’t the only story on this Masters Sunday, it just feels that way. Francesco Molinari, who has been praised for his unflappability, took a two-shot lead into the final round but crumbled down the stretch, with double bogeys at 12 and 15. He finished two back of Woods at 11 under. What does this finish mean for Molinari’s rep as a cold-blooded closer?

Wall: I’m not worried about Molinari. He had a strong track record before this week and didn’t crumble when he laid the sod over the wedge shot on 15, going one under over his last three holes. I still think he adds to his major haul before his career is over. He just happened to run into a Tiger buzzsaw on Sunday.

Zak: I disagree with Wall’s assessment of “buzzsaw Tiger.” 70 doesn’t scream buzzsaw to me. Molinari showed pretty early that he was shakier than normal off the tee AND with the irons. He saved himself scrambling for the front nine and it finally cracked on 12. I’d say that reputation is a little damaged.

Marksbury: Molinari is still a fabulous, world-class player, but that cold-blooded rep took a big hit on Sunday. I was so surprised to see that ball go in the water that I audibly gasped. People like to say that there’s no longer a Tiger Effect but I totally disagree based on what we saw today. The Tiger Effect went dormant when he wasn’t competitive. But these guys haven’t played with white-hot Tiger in the final round of a major since a very long time ago. There’s still definitely something to it.

Dethier: I think it’s really, really hard to sit on a 54-hole lead at the Masters. Francesco Molinari will be fine. If anything, this was humanizing — the guy has been such a stone-cold killer of late that this may help us get to know him a little better. But yeah, standing on the 12th tee it felt like we were all aboard the Franco win train.

Ritter: In the last year, Molinari has won a major and submitted one of the great Ryder Cup performances ever. There’s really nowhere to go but down from there. This Masters will sting, but his rise is no fluke — his swing and putting stroke are built to last. He’ll be back.

Bamberger: He is a human being. He is my favorite elite player in the game today. He is a man and a gent.

6. Our Sean Zak made the case that the ace-friendly Sunday hole location at the par-3 16th is too predictable. Is Zak on to something or on something?

Zak: Duh! Look, my point is just that we see the same exact things happen at that hole every year and I think this game demands variety. A back right pin would be a greater risk-reward than the par-2.5 that the 16th hole has become on Sunday. Are we chasing entertainment or elite golf shots?

Bamberger: No. He is incorrect. But points for the original thought! It has to be one of the top-100 par-3s in tournament golf.

Wall: I love Mr. Zak, but this is a terrible take. Part of the magic of Sunday at Augusta is the outside chance a player could make an ace that alters the course of the tournament. That pin position is always good for some fireworks, which is what the back nine is all about at the Masters. Sure, returning to the back right pin would add a degree of difficulty, but this isn’t the U.S. Open. I want to see guys firing at flags, not hitting shots to strategic spots for a routine par.

Marksbury: Bring on the aces! I love the back-nine fireworks and I am in favor of any hole location that promotes birdie opportunities as opposed to defensive pars. Sorry, Sean!

Dethier: Yeah, I kinda dig this one. If any course besides Augusta National had a hole in a collection area exactly like this, we’d give it a hard time. It is super fun, and part of the tradition — but sometimes new traditions are good, too. I’m game for a change.

Ritter: Zak has had several great Masters-themed ideas over the years, including an oral history of the 1997 event and a podcast that celebrates its history. I never thought he’d do anything more offensive than eating 21 of Augusta’s fried chicken sandwiches in a single week a few years back, but this might be it. The 16th is the easiest hole out there, but it’s still a blast. Don’t mess with it.