It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the full extent of Tiger Woods’ personal struggles over the last decade, but the few looks there have been behind the curtain have painted a picture of man in despair.
Shortly after Woods captured his 15th career major victory and his first in 11 years, his friend, Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay III, joined "Live From The Masters" to offer a portrait of just how far Woods had to climb to get where he did Sunday – standing behind the 18th green, hugging his mother and children as the Masters champion, just as he had hugged his father Earl 22 years ago.
“I just think that he’s really matured over the last few years,” Begay said. “A lot of it had to do with the fact that he had to deal with his human side. When you’re injured and you’re hurt and the future is sort of uncertain, you start to ask yourself a variety of different questions. And I think that he came up with some really great answers and started to put a lot of his time into other things that were of interest to him. I think it really helped him develop as a father, as a friend.
“You saw there at the end, Charlie and Sam just wanted to be next to their dad. Jokingly throughout the last year or so, you would hear him talk about them not ever having seen him play at the highest level. Well, he gave them a little glimpse into it at the end of last year at the Tour Championship and an even bigger glimpse into today with how he persevered. He really did persevere.”
Begay was then asked by Brandel Chamblee if there was ever a time when he believed a Woods comeback would be impossible.
“Yes. Absolutely. It was after the second surgery,” he said. “I went to visit him to provide some support. Sometimes when you’re laid up, laying around, it’s always nice to have someone around the house just to talk to. I walked in and he was unable to get up out of his chair to give me a hug.
“We had to go pick his kids up at school, and he asked me to drive him. He was not able to get out of his chair. He was unable to walk to the car under his own power. He put his arm around me and I sort of kind of helped shuffle him off into the car. He was unable to sit upright, had to recline the seat back. It was a telling day for me, because the one person who I had kind of looked up to for most of my life – as a friend and as a competitor – was unable to get up out of his chair. And so, if he’s unable to do that, then he’s certainly not able to play world-class golf in the near future of maybe even ever.”
Woods’ victory Sunday evoked memories on Jack Nicklaus’ final Masters victory in 1986, but also of Ben Hogan’s U.S. Open triumph at Merion in 1950, when Hogan came back from his own career-threatening injury, a near-fatal car accident.
“Just seeing this guy’s desire, and what’s in his heart, it’s unparalleled,” Begay said. “This could be one of the greatest achievements in sports.”