The gallery at Augusta was still swooning Sunday. The Masters was won but Tiger Woods had not even put on his fifth green jacket yet. And this text from a buddy popped into my phone.
Greatest moment in sports history.
I didn’t laugh out loud. The five words that scream hyperbole or maybe sarcasm normally get that reaction from me. We all want to think what’s happening right now, in our time, is the best that has ever been. But what if the five words in that text had it right? Because it sure felt like that watching Tiger’s biggest triumph atop a mountain of them.
At the very least, wherever you go for Greatest Sports Moment, save room in the pantheon for the snapshot of Tiger hugging his kids after that last putt dropped. Save room for the sound of emotion turning the last few words wobbly as he said, “It’s something I’ll never ever forget.”
Stoicism is Woods’ mask of choice during play. Birdie or bogey, his face won’t tell. But when he won Sunday, when everything lifted from him and he was light enough to fly, when the ovation engulfed him, he stoked the decibels even louder by pumping both arms high and exclaiming into the din. He knew what this moment meant. Nobody knew better.
It was magic on the surface:
A 43-year-old man, past prime in a game for the young, wins his first Masters tournament in 14 years, the longest gap ever between wins on the sport’s grandest stage. It was his first major win of any sort in nearly 11 years. His chase of golf history had been cast out of question by all those dark years. Now, a 15th career major suddenly puts Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 back in the cross-hairs for a resurgent Tiger — and it is a revitalizing thing for all of sports, not just this one.
It is so much more than that, though.
It is the story of an epic fall wrapped in scandal and shame, a struggle wrapped in pain. This is not to dismiss that it was Tiger’s own fault, what derailed his career and turned him into tabloid fodder. But that is what makes this a tale of perseverance, of overcoming, of ultimate triumph. It’s about redemption. It’s an American story, really. About getting beyond imperfection and failure, about hurt and hurting others and coming through. It is mirrored to some degree in a million lives, in a million ways, almost none of which are televised live in a life of paparazzi and end with the most beautifully garish green jacket ever made.
Tiger became Tiger to America in 1997, winning his first Masters. He was a kid. He was a golfer of color in a sport as white as the dimpled ball. His victory was transcendent, bigger than golf. It meant something. It introduced a new generation to the sport, endearing him to millions. We remember him hugging his Dad.
The run of majors followed, until it slammed shut in the scandal of infidelity and messy divorce, and then pain on the course as well as of it. Back surgeries. Years of starts and stops. Of trying to be Tiger again and falling short every time.
The children he hugged in triumph on Sunday? Daughter Sam is 11. Son Charlie is 10. They were both born right around the time his best days were running away from him.
They knew of their Dad’s greatness secondhand, maybe from a YouTube video, until seeing for themselves Sunday.
It was a circle-of-life moment that mattered to Woods. He wanted his kids to see their father win on the one course that is his cathedral “just like my Pops saw me win here.”
Two years ago, “There was no future. I just wanted to walk [without pain] again,” Tiger said recently.
He once told his daughter, “Daddy can’t walk.”
Spinal fusion surgery rescued his career, allowed Sunday to happen, reintroduced the notion of his maybe still catching Jack Nicklaus.
Even if the chase for Jack’s 18 majors falls short, though, Sunday brought Tiger’s career full circle and fulfilled what he had wished for even more than golf history. He said before the tournament, of his kids: “I want them to see [for themselves] what I’ve been able to do my entire career.”
Sam and Charlie saw, as the world did.
Was it the greatest moment in sports history?
It brought goosebumps and tears and filled hearts on a Sunday, and that was gift enough.