Tiger Woods smiles as he wears his green jacket after winning the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

 

Tiger Woods’ Masters championship run, which concluded Sunday at Augusta National, might have been the biggest moment in golf history. Most certainly it is the highlight of professional golf in the 21st century.

Because Woods has had four back surgeries, the latest a fusion, it has been easy for this writer — and many others — to dismiss his chances of winning another major tournament title, something he had not accomplished in 11 long years before Sunday’s momentous conquest, in what is ranked by most observers as the PGA Tour’s premier event.

Bill Kennedy

This writer was on record as being a firm believer that Tiger’s surgical back would not allow him to return to a championship in a major. That became No. 15 for Woods and now the golf world is alive with the feeling that Tiger can catch Jack Nicklaus for the all-time record of 18.

Because Woods’ surgical back is so delicate, it is the belief here that, 1) he is one bad swing from becoming a disabled person; and 2) his chances of winning another major, much less three or four more, are slim.

The feeling here also is that it is a miracle he has returned to major championship form, which he began to demonstrate late last season by winning a FedEx Cup playoff event. Conditioning never has been a Tiger issue, and if he has a problem, it might be that he was over-conditioned. Clearly, Tiger takes care of his body, but will that superb body hold up and take care of Tiger?

Mike Doran, director of communications for the Maine State Golf Association, has a Tiger Woods success theory.

“I always thought that he still has it in him,” said Doran, who vividly recalls Woods winning his first Masters (and initial major) in 1997, when he was 12 years old. “I was captivated with him then, and I was nervously pacing around my apartment on Sunday morning during the Masters fourth round. I’m still on Cloud 9.”

Doran thinks that Woods has three or four more good seasons in his 43-year-old body, which has taken him to 81 PGA Tour championships in 352 starts for a 23 percent winning percentage that is No. 1 all-time ahead of No. 2, Ben Hogan at 21.3 percent.

Doran gives Tiger approximately 20 more majors starts, and he acknowledges that the Nicklaus 18 “still is pretty safe.” There is no doubt, however, that Doran would love to be wrong about his Woods projection. Doran is one of many golfing members of his generation, who have been rejuvenated by Tiger winning a major.

Nicklaus, who was on a fishing trip during the Masters, was gracious in his congratulatory message to Woods by saying, “It is a great day for golf.”

That simple statement encompasses a lot for professional golf, because it acknowledges once again Tiger’s huge impact on the game. First, TV ratings could and should return to the great numbers they reached during the years that Tiger dominated the sport. They were respectable even on Sunday morning, at just 7.7, when an early start was scheduled, because of projected inclement weather that afternoon.

Second, Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player put pro golf financially on the map during the 1960s, because their rivalry gave the sport great exposure, especially TV ratings. In the 1990s and early 21st century, Woods dominance spiked ratings and prize money. Every player on the PGA Tour should kiss Tiger’s ring for that, because most of them have become wealthy men by riding on the coattails of Tiger’s huge success.

Tiger appears to be back. For how long and how well, we cannot predict. Even if it is just this one time, he has lifted the PGA Tour to a level of limelight it has not enjoyed for a long, long time.

Bill Kennedy is a golf columnist for the Sun Journal who moved to Maine after more that 40 years working as a journalist.


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