Two years after believing his career was over, Tiger Woods held his nerve on a wonderfully chaotic final day at Augusta National to win his 15th major title, and a first in 11 years, at the 83rd Masters.
Amid a dizzying series of twists and turns, Woods carded a closing 70 to finish 13 under par, one shot ahead of Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka, the reigning US Open and US PGA champion.
Overnight leader Francesco Molinari was two clear with seven to play but dumped his tee shot on the 12th into Rae’s Creek and also double-bogeyed the 15th, the Open champion having to settle for a tie for fifth with Tony Finau, Webb Simpson and Jason Day.
“I think I made a few new fans with those double bogeys,” Molinari admitted with a rueful smile, well aware that the vast majority of fans had come hoping to see Woods claim a fifth Green Jacket and his first since 2005.
They duly saw the 43-year-old win a major after trailing heading into the final round for the first time, an incredible 3,954 days since he beat Rocco Mediate in a play-off for the 2008 US Open, despite a double stress fracture and knee injury which prompted season-ending surgery.
“Last year I was just lucky to be playing again,” said Woods.
To have my kids there, it’s come full circle. My dad was here in ‘97 and now I’m the dad with two kids there.Tiger Woods
“The previous (champions) dinner I was really struggling, missed a couple of years of this great tournament and to now be the champion... it’s unreal for me to experience this.
“I couldn’t be more happy and excited, I’m kind of at a loss for words.
“To have my kids there, it’s come full circle. My dad was here in ‘97 and now I’m the dad with two kids there.”
With thunderstorms forecast to hit the course in mid-afternoon, tournament officials took the unprecedented decision to move the tee times forward by several hours, with players sent out in groups of three from both the first and 10th tees.
Molinari began the day with a two-shot lead over Woods and Finau and found himself three clear after six straight pars, but Woods closed the gap to a single shot with the aid of back-to-back birdies to set up a thrilling finale.
Woods bogeyed the 10th to fall two behind again but the wind was playing havoc on the daunting par-three 12th and Molinari, Koepka, England’s Ian Poulter and Finau all hit their tee shots into the water guarding the front of the green.
Sensing his opportunity, Woods played safely away from the pin and a somewhat nervy par, after leaving his birdie attempt five feet short, gave him a tie for the lead as Molinari could not get up and down following a penalty drop.
An amazing day then took another twist as Patrick Cantlay, who only made the halfway cut with a shot to spare, followed his third round of 64 with five birdies and an eagle on the 15th to briefly claim the lead, only to bogey the next two holes.
Birdies from Johnson and Koepka made it a five-way tie before Molinari’s challenge ended on the 15th, where Woods two-putted from long range for birdie to take the outright lead for the first time.
Woods was then inches away from the third hole-in-one of the day on the 16th and tapped in for birdie to double his lead, allowing him the luxury of a bogey on the last before the exuberant celebrations could begin as chants of ‘Tiger, Tiger’ reverberated around the 18th green.
“That will be the greatest scene in golf forever,” said six-time major winner Nick Faldo, commentating for CBS. “We will never see anything as exhilarating as that.”
Woods said: “I was just trying to plod my way around all day, all of a sudden I had the lead coming up 18 trying to make a five.
“When I tapped in I don’t know what I did, I just know I screamed.”
Woods then embraced his son Charlie, daughter Sam and mother Kultida behind the 18th green and added: “My little boy Charlie, that embrace is just special.
“Sam lost a State soccer tournament yesterday so I convinced her to come up and watch the Masters and luckily I was able to win.”