There are many who believe another major win for Tiger Woods would represent the greatest achievement of his illustrious career.
They are wrong.
If Woods does manage to add to his haul of 14 major titles, he will have unquestionably managed a phenomenal accomplishment, given the many problems that have blighted him over the past decade.
Now 42, Tiger has overcome four back surgeries and high-profile personal issues to once more compete at the highest level.
The fall from grace of golf’s biggest star — who famously issued a sensational public apology for his infidelity in early 2010 — appeared to have reached a new low last May, when an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications led to his arrest in Florida for driving under the influence and a forlorn mug shot of Woods gaining significant attention around the globe.
At that point it was unclear whether the former world No. 1 would even play competitively again, given the prolonged physical struggles that had severely limited his activity since 2014.
Yet Woods has not only returned to regular action on the PGA Tour this year, but also contended at the top of leaderboards with four top-12 finishes, including a runner-up at March’s Valspar Championship.
A 15th major win — and first since 2008 — would complete a truly magnificent comeback to rival any seen in sport.
Good morning. #USOpen week is here! pic.twitter.com/bh4mVardmN
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 11, 2018
However, Woods will surely never top the victory he secured 10 years ago this week, in the 108th U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
The details are, by now, familiar to most. Tiger somehow defied two stress fractures and a torn ACL in his left leg to compete in San Diego.
It is not unreasonable to suggest no other player would have teed up on Thursday in Woods’ condition, details of which remained a closely guarded secret as the event took place.
Not content with simply showing up, though, Woods remained as determined as ever to win and somehow found a way to do so despite battling excruciating pain throughout the week.
In an interview with ESPN, Rob McNamara, vice president of Tiger Woods Ventures, said: “Almost every day, I was concerned for him. Once he realized he couldn’t hurt himself any further … he decided he could manage the pain. It was just hard to watch.”
“I thought he had just pulled a muscle or something,” added Woods’ final-round partner Lee Westwood as he reflected on the grimaces, limps and winces that naturally accompanied Tiger’s efforts on Sunday. “I didn’t think it was anywhere near as bad as we later found out.”
A decade on, it remains impossible to comprehend just how Woods stayed in the hunt.
As if defying serious injuries was not incredible enough, he was also forced to play 91 holes before eventually claiming victory. A stunning birdie at the end of regulation play on Sunday earned Woods an 18-hole Monday play-off with Rocco Mediate and both men then shot 71 – Tiger again birdieing the last to extend the tournament – before the world number one prevailed in sudden death.
2008, Torrey Pines:
@TigerWoods extended his record to 14-0 in majors when leading or co-leading after holes#TigersBack pic.twitter.com/5MdSgazykX
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) November 29, 2017
The simple facts are worthy of repetition. Tiger could not be beaten despite playing more than five rounds of golf with two stress fractures in his left tibia and a torn ACL.
In the days after his success at Torrey Pines, Woods revealed the severity of his injuries to the wider world and subsequently underwent reconstructive knee surgery, ending his 2008 season prematurely.
He won six PGA Tour titles the following year, together with eight more across 2012 and 2013, but another major has continued to elude him.
It remains to be seen whether Woods will ever add to his tally, with this week’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills providing his latest opportunity.
Either way, Torrey Pines will forever remain the scene of his greatest triumph.
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