Tiger Woods winning the Masters might be his greatest achievement

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 13: Tiger Woods of the United States walks on the 17th green during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 13: Tiger Woods of the United States walks on the 17th green during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Tiger Woods has a legitimate chance to win his fifth Masters championship on Sunday, as he will play in the final group alongside Tony Finau and leader Francesco Molinari. The win wouldn’t break Jack Nicklaus’s career record, but it could be the biggest that Woods has ever had.

Tiger Woods is in the final group on Sunday at the Masters. In 2019. Let that sink in for a moment. Sure, he took a bit of an unconventional path, as Mother Nature is intervening to push tee times up several hours in groups of three. But that’s not what matters at this moment.

Tiger Woods will be in the last group on the course at the Masters. The major he has been the most successful at in his career, nearly 11 years after his last major victory. It’s a story that Hollywood probably wouldn’t even get right, but it’s reality, less than 12 hours away. The journey to the green jacket won’t be easy, with both Tony Finau and Francesco Molinari playing outstanding golf. There are a host of contenders close behind, too. But no epic story is a mere victory march for its hero. And “epic” is pretty much what a Tiger Woods win would be.

In fact, it might even be his greatest accomplishment in what is already one of the greatest careers of all time.

This isn’t to say that the legend of Tiger Woods would be in any way diminished if he were to fight through and still fall short at Augusta National. No, simply earning this spot in 2019 is an accomplishment that many thought was impossible not too long ago. Two years ago, Tiger believed that he may never play competitive golf again, and that forced him to make a decision that changed the way the rest of his career (and his life) would play out.

“I was done at that particular time,” Woods said on Wednesday evening, accepting the Ben Hogan Award for his comeback from those injuries. The rest, from Bob Harig of ESPN:

"“In order to actually come to the dinner, I had to get a nerve block just to be able to walk and come to the dinner. It meant so much to me to be part of the Masters and come to the Champions Diner. I didn’t want to miss it. It was tough and uncomfortable. I ended up going to England that night, saw a specialist there, [and] they recommended unfortunately for me the only way to get rid of the pain I was living in was to have the spinal fusion surgery. So I decided to go to Dr. Richard Guyer in Texas and had the surgery.”"

From Augusta National to England in a night, and the process began. As we know now, Woods had that spinal surgery, and it turned his game – and life – around. The procedure couldn’t have been more successful. Six months later, Woods was posting practice videos on social media. He ramped up from pitches and putts, to smooth irons and finally, the driver. It was the most captivating practice video we had ever seen, but it gave us all the same thing it gave Tiger: hope.

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He returned last year, and it was more than most of us could have dreamed possible. Sure, there were struggles along the way, but the progress built week by week, month by month. A near-victory at the Valspar Championship, strong weeks at Bay Hill and THE PLAYERS, and at one point, the Sunday lead at The Open Championship. Woods finished solo second behind a buzzsaw named Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship, and then came the victory at the TOUR Championship. A full year of growth culminated in triumph.

That brings us to what’s about to happen on Sunday at Augusta. Tiger Woods has made Butler Cabin something of a second home, his four green jackets tied with Arnold Palmer and trailing only Nicklaus’s six all time. His victory in 1997 changed the game both athletically and socially, and his 2001 run to the Tiger Slam redefined greatness in the modern era. But a victory in 2019, after all he’s been through, might even surpass Nicklaus’s 1986 championship.

The Golden Bear, the greatest player in Masters history, was 46. But he was also just six years removed from winning both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in 1980. Oh, and he did all of those without a fused spine. So yeah, I’d say this one would be pretty much a runaway for “greatest of all time”, at least when it comes to the Masters. It might even be inching up on Ben Hogan’s run to the 1950 U.S. Open – the very championship that inspired the award Woods was given on Wednesday – in the inspiration department.

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Tiger Woods has been making history for more than 20 years now. On Sunday, he’ll get a chance to do it once again, on the game’s grandest stage. This could be a Masters unlike any other, and it could redefine the career of one of the greatest to ever do it.