BY TOD LEONARD
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/TNS
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Twenty-two years ago, Earl Woods wasn’t supposed to be standing behind the 18th green at Augusta National when his 21-year-old son captured his first major championship in the Masters.
Advised by doctors not to travel because of a heart condition, Earl Woods insisted on going, and when he embraced Tiger on that Sunday in April 1997, the father cried like a baby in his son’s arms.
On another Masters Sunday, it was Tiger, the father, holding his own two children in long, tearful embraces.
It was a life coming full circle in so many ways for the 43-year-old who seized his first major win in 14 years when he made a charge on Augusta National’s back to secure his fifth Masters. Woods shot 2-under-par 70 in the final round to finish at 13 under and beat Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka by one stroke.
FAMILY BY HIS SIDE
Waiting for Woods behind the 18th green, all dressed in his Sunday signature red and black, were his mother, Kultida, and children from his marriage to ex-wife Elin Nordegren — daughter, Sam, 11, and son, Charlie, 10. With them was Woods’ girlfriend, Erica Herman.
“It means the world to me,” Woods said. “Their love and their support, I just can’t say enough how much that meant to me throughout my struggles, when I really just had a hard time moving around. Just their infectiousness of happiness; I was going through a tough time physically. There was a lot of times when I really couldn’t move, and so that in itself is difficult.
“But just to have them there, and then now to have them see their Pops win, just like my Pops saw me win here, it’s pretty special.”
Sam was born in June 2007, one day after that year’s U.S. Open, so she was a year old when Woods’ won his last previous major in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Charlie arrived in February 2009, on the day after the Farmers Open at Torrey that Woods skipped.
For much of their lives, the children knew their father as someone famous, but more as the ailing, struggling former great.
“I think the kids are starting to understand how much this game means to me, and some of the things I’ve done in the game,” Woods said. “Prior to comeback, they only knew that golf caused me a lot of pain. If I tried to swing a club, I would be on the ground, and I struggled for years, and that’s basically all they remember.”
RETURNED LAST YEAR
Unable to participate actively in his children’s lives, and seeking a better quality of life more than an improved golf game, Woods elected in April 2017 to undergo his fourth back surgery to fuse discs.
After sitting out the rest of 2017, Woods returned to competition in 2018, and in September, he captured the Tour Championship with his kids on hand.
“I was very fortunate to be given another chance to do something that I love to do,” Woods said. “But more importantly, I’ve been able to participate in my kids’ lives in a way that I couldn’t for a number of years.
“Now I’m able to play golf again, and do it at an elite level again, which is something that I’m just very blessed to be able to have that opportunity again.”
REMEMBERING DAD’S WORDS
An enormous influence in his son’s life, Earl Woods died in May 2006. Tiger said there were times when he thought of his father in the heat of Sunday’s competition, especially on some difficult putts.
“Just putt to the picture,” Woods said. “That’s what he always taught me to do, and that’s what I just kept telling myself out there: just putt to the picture.”
Admitting he was extremely achy from the hard-fought battle of the week, Woods said, “I definitely let it all go today, and I ramped up the speed. I’m starting to have a little pop on the bat out there, which was good to see.
“I can promise you one thing: I’m not going to hit a golf ball tomorrow.”
He is very much looking forward to a visit soon to the kids’ school in Florida. He might be wearing a certain green jacket.
“I’m excited,” he said, “about show-and-tell.”