Last year’s winner Patrick Reed puts the green jacket on Tiger Woods. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Last year’s winner Patrick Reed puts the green jacket on Tiger Woods. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

New stripes: Three signs Tiger’s changed

As Notah Begay watched Tiger Woods complete one of the greatest comebacks in sports history by winning the 2019 Masters, there were signs everywhere showing how much his best friend had changed.

The most obvious was seeing Woods, 43, rush to his children, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 10, after securing a one-shot win to claim his first major in 11 years.

Woods put his family through hell after a sex scandal saw his marriage to Elin Nordegren end in a messy divorce - and an embarrassing DUI arrest from a concoction of painkillers resulted in a sad mug shot.

But over the past few years he's worked at being a better father with the same persistence that saw him become a golfing great - and it's paying off.

"You saw there at the end Charlie and Sam just wanted to be next to their Dad," Begay told CBS.

Begay, who was a college teammate of Woods at Stanford and is now an analyst for the Golf Channel, said his best friend had "really matured over the last few years" while sidelined with chronic back injuries.

"A lot of it had to do with him having to deal with his human side," Begay told CBS. "When you're injured and you're hurt and the future is uncertain, you start to ask yourself a variety of questions. He came up with really great answers ... (and) that really helped him develop as a father and as a friend."

"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 starting to be able to play with them and do things in their sports. That's something I always missed."

Tiger Woods hugs his son, Charlie.
Tiger Woods hugs his son, Charlie.

But it's not just his family who is appreciating the new Tiger Woods. A host of Woods' current and former rivals lined up to congratulate him winning his fifth green jacket - a rare sight when he was dominating the golf world a decade ago.

"It's the man that he's become," Begay said. "If you look at his previous wins there wasn't hardly anybody waiting for him after those victories. Now you just saw the plethora of players from multiple generations - Bernhard Langer, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler - those are relationships he's fostered in these last few years.

"His performance on the golf course was non-existent until the last year or so, but his growth as a person and somebody in this game who could still create new friendships and relationships has really blossomed and he's able to really appreciate that, approach it with a certain level of gratitude and really take these new challenges on."

There was also a critical moment on the course that highlighted to Begay a change in Woods.

Beginning the day two shots behind Francesco Molinari, Woods patiently waited for an opening and got it when the Italian double bogeyed on 12. But instead of pouncing with the ferocity he used to in the past, Woods continued playing steady.

"I could see the way he was approaching certain shots ... playing so smart based on the situation. As soon as Molinari hit the water off 12 he changed his line," Begay said. "He knew he might not win it by five or six (shots) like he has in the past but all you need to win is by one. Tiger is finding a new formula for winning and ... we'll see him contending on a regular basis over the next couple of years."

'HE WAS UNABLE TO GET OUT OF HIS CHAIR'

Begay also recounted the moment he believed Woods was done.

It came after the American superstar underwent spinal fusion surgery in 2017 because of chronic back pain and was unable to even walk unassisted.

"It was after the second surgery and I went to visit him to try to provide support," Begay said. "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 unable to walk to the car under his own power. He put his arm around me and I helped shuffle him off. He was unable to sit upright, I had to recline the seat back. It was a telling day for me because the one person I'd looked up to most of my life as a friend and a competitor was unable to get out of his chair. If he was unable to do that (in my mind) he was unable to play world-class golf in the near future or maybe even ever. That was a reality check for me."

But despite Begay's fears, Woods never spoke of retirement. "The one telling thing for me is he never wanted to talk about the end," Begay said. "He never wanted to talk about this window that was closing on him that many of us in the world of golf and sport (thought) was beginning to signify he wasn't going to be able to play at a high level again - let alone win a major championship.

"I know sometimes he would question how far he could come back and even decide whether to pursue it. But when he decided to pursue it, it was something he just left the outcome as an unknown. He just wanted to put his best foot forward and put everything into it and this is what you get. The guy is just a remarkable athlete ...

"Just seeing this guy's desire and what's in his heart. It's unparalleled. This might be one of the greatest achievements in sport."

FIVE GREEN JACKETS: TIGER'S MASTERS WINS

1997: Woods blazed to a record 18-under par total in winning his first Masters. At 21, he became the youngest player to win at Augusta National and the youngest major championship winner since World War II. His 12-shot margin of victory over Tom Kite was a Masters record and as the first African-American to win the Masters he expanded the game's audience.

"That was by far the most important tournament I've ever won," Woods said. A key consideration back then - earning a 10-year exemption on the US tour. "You guys laugh at it now, but it was the coolest thing in the world," Woods once recalled.

2001: Woods became the first golfer to hold all four major trophies simultaneously, carding three straight rounds in the 60s on the way to a two-stroke victory over David Duval.

2002: A third-round 66 keyed a victory that made Woods just the third golfer, after Jack Nicklaus in 1965-66 and Nick Faldo in 1989-90 to repeat as Masters champion.

2005: Woods was locked in a last-round battle with Chris DiMarco when he produced a shot that has become part of Masters lore. Having missed the green at 16, Woods aimed his chip well left of the pin to let the ball funnel down the slope toward the hole. For an agonising moment it paused on the lip of the cup before tumbling in. He would go on to beat DiMarco with a 15-foot birdie putt at the first playoff hole.

2019: Woods had one successful season behind him when he arrived at Augusta National this year, having contended in two majors in 2018 and won the US PGA Tour Championship to confirm his return from spinal fusion surgery. But doubts lingered that he would be able to win again on the game's biggest stages, doubts that Woods quelled as he erased a two-shot third-round deficit to beat Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka by one stroke. Woods, trailing by two through 11, birdied the 13th, 15th and 16th to march past a faltering Francesco Molinari to an emotional victory.

News Corp Australia


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