The new generation wanted a piece of the old man, begged for a taste of it in living color.
They wanted Tiger Woods freed from back procedures and fading memories, from short-game struggles and off-course issues. They wanted him in the red shirt, whole, hungry and in the cauldron.
At half-past 2 on a cloudy Georgia afternoon, Tiger Woods pushed past 11 years of lost time, past a fleet of youngsters built in his image, and won the 83rd Masters on one of greatest days in golf history.
Twenty-two years ago at Augusta National Golf Club, youth was served.
On Sunday, youth got served.
“It’s what I watched as a kid,” co-runner up Xander Schauffele said of Woods’ 15th major. “It’s what I watched growing up.”
Said Brooks Koepka, who clipped Woods at last year’s PGA Championship, but fell one short Sunday: “This is probably one of the greatest comebacks I think anybody’s ever seen.”
You can lose the “probably” and drop the “one of.” No athlete in modern times has risen to Woods’ heights, fallen so dramatically, and then resurrected his being so thoroughly.
In 1997, Woods’s first major sent a sonic boom through the sport. It smashed perceptions, blew up prejudices, and ushered in a period of growth the game had never seen.
His decade-plus run of dominance placed him in the pantheon of the world’s most recognizable people, let alone athletes. He mingled with Mandela. His father compared him to Ghandi. His tee times included U.S. presidents from both sides of the aisle.
It was heady stuff for anyone, let alone a 20-something whose formative years included a complicated upbringing, thick glasses and the college nickname Urkel.
It crumbled in the heap of an embarrassing scandal, the perfect pitchman suddenly exposed, the game left with a gaping hole, parents scrambling for the manual to explain fallen heroes to sons and daughters.
A decrepit back followed, plus a decaying short game and a springtime DUI. Tiger Woods – the child prodigy with the abnormal childhood – seemed to be disappearing down a spiral of self-sabotage.
Ben Hogan’s return from his car crash on a foggy Texas highway was a triumph of the human spirit, of his audacious golfing genius and indefatigable grit.
Muhammad Ali became heavyweight champion seven years after being stripped of his title for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, going from one of sports’ all-time pariahs to one of its most beloved figures.
Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at age 46, compartmentalizing his financial troubles and weaving together a magical Sunday in Augusta.
George Foreman came out of mothballs to sell grills and positive thinking to the aging set, becoming the oldest heavyweight champion at age 45.
But the mountain Tiger climbed was a world apart, even if many of the detours and hazards were of his own doing. He climbed out of the detritus of ridicule, from a string of poor decisions, a streak of lampooning NY Post covers, to summit Olympus yet again.
As a 43-year-old divorced father of two, Woods has never been more relatable, humanized by his mistakes, humbled by the game, motivated by the coming of age of his children.
What he showed us in Augusta is that Woods might have been better than we even imagined, his mental toughness somehow restored, his once-in-a-lifetime skill set intact.
During the height of his power, Woods became the most underrated golfer in history, making a game featuring a dimpled ball and a crooked stick look effortless.
Four straight majors won? A streak of 142 consecutive made cuts? Just Tiger being Tiger.
Maybe it took him losing everything to arrive at this point, with the roars in St. Louis and Atlanta and Augusta sounding so much different than they did two decades ago.
Shock and awe have been replaced by appreciation and love, the complications of sporting worship be damned.
Tiger Woods – fantastic and fallible, lost and found – is climbing the charts, with a bullet.
The Tiger babies asked for it.
They had no idea what they would get.