Has there ever been an athlete with a personal, mental and physical graph that has soared and dipped as dramatically as Tiger Woods?
Here is a golfer who scaled the sporting heights and was seemingly on course to overhaul the great Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
Between 1997 and 2008, Woods reeled in 14 of them.
He was on an irresistible roll. That 14th major was the US Open at Torrey Pines, where Woods won it on one leg. The other was broken and he headed straight to the operating table.
Still, this was surely an indestructible winning machine. His leg would mend and he would inevitably return to winning ways.
Except, of course, that is not how it panned out. The following year Woods’ life fell apart. Multiple infidelities were exposed as he crashed his car into a hydrant outside his house on Thanksgiving night. Disgrace, rehab and divorce underpinned his spectacular fall from grace.
Bit by bit Woods sought to rebuild his name and game.
America thirsted for major redemption but, even though he returned to the top of the world rankings in 2013, that victory in one of the big four championships stubbornly eluded him.
As he strained, his body buckled. Nerve damage in his back reduced Woods to a hobbling wreck to the extent that he was left wondering if he would ever swing a golf club again.
“I might be done,” he told fellow Masters winners at the 2017 Champions Dinner. From there he flew to Harley Street for a diagnosis that showed a back fusion would be needed to have any chance of playing again.
Even after that operation Woods could not be sure that he would compete again. Then came the nod to start putting and chipping. Then wedges, before the OK to hit full-on tee shots.
Woods told us the first of those tentative efforts on the range went barely 90 yards. He was fearful of the damage he might do and could not face any more of the excruciating pain that had defined his early 40s.
He remained reliant on a cocktail of painkillers that left him in an incoherent stupor when cops picked him up slumped at the wheel of his car in May 2017. The dishevelled mugshot was another image to haunt him.
Again we pondered the downfall of a competitor who had enjoyed such a clean-cut reputation in the early years of his glittering career.
But eventually he returned to the PGA Tour with his ranking the wrong side of the top thousand players in the world. There was a mountain to be scaled and it would take time.
Twelve months ago he returned to Augusta for his first Masters since 2015. The hype machine went into overdrive, his every shot watched by ardent fans as well as those with only passing interest.
Woods finished one over par in a share of 32nd place but his body was intact. He shot up the rankings and played a packed schedule. By high summer he was contending in majors once again – sixth at the Open, runner-up at the US PGA Championship.
Then he won the Tour Championship, which confirmed he could still win golf tournaments. That knowledge was invaluable at Augusta this weekend as he strode to victory in the 83rd Masters.
It was an epic tournament. All of the world’s best players, bar an out-of-sorts Justin Rose and McIlroy, challenged for the title.
Think about it – Woods beat the Open champion Francesco Molinari and Brooks Koepka, who currently holds two major titles. It was a fitting aspect to the extraordinary narrative that they should end up in his wake.
The outpouring of emotion evoked memories of Nicklaus’ landmark win here in 1986 at the age of 46. The scale of the comeback sits alongside and maybe outstrips Ben Hogan’s return from life-threatening car crash injuries to complete the career Grand Slam.
Woods’ victory reignited the story of his quest to overhaul Nicklaus’ major-winning record. The narrative will be picked up at next month’s PGA at Bethpage, the venue for one of Woods’ US Open triumphs.
Whatever you think of Tiger Woods, the impact of this Masters victory cannot be denied. It is massive for golf and sport in general.
More and more people, not just golf fans, will be stopping and taking note of the game – especially when he is the man hitting the shots.