TIger Woods is a major champion again after four back surgery and the best part of a decade in the wilderness.
The 43-year-old former world No 1 produced a masterclass at Augusta to win his fifth Masters title, his 15th major championship and his first for 11 years.
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.
It is the first time Woods has won a major when trailing after 54 holes and comes 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.
And it is just two years since he told Jack Nicklaus “I’m done” during the Champions Dinner at Augusta National, after which he flew straight to London to see the consultant who recommended he undergo what proved to be career-saving spinal fusion surgery.
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 had ridden his luck at times in his third round of 67 and finally paid the price for a wild drive on the 10th, the resulting bogey dropping him two behind Molinari, who saved par superbly after pulling his approach left of the green.
However, the wind was playing havoc on the daunting par-three 12th and Molinari, Koepka, Ian Poulter and Finau all dumped 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 mishap 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 forvever,” said six-time major winner Nick Faldo, commentating for CBS. “We will never see anything as exhilarating as that.”