Tiger Time: Greatest Comeback in Sports History?

Tiger Time: Greatest Comeback in Sports History?

He's baaaaackkkk.

After years of teasing fans with strong performances here and there, Tiger finally reached golf's summit Sunday afternoon by winning his fifth Masters’ title. The scene was perhaps unlike anything that the game of golf has ever seen. Tiger embraced his team and family in a display of emotion that could only be expressed after 10 difficult years filled with drama, injuries and heartbreak. Millions around the world teared up with him. This one was bigger than golf. It represented an emotional triumph that was a decade in the making. Many, including myself, grew up watching Tiger rip off one of the most dominant stretches in sports history from 1997-2008. After such a long dry spell, did Sunday represent the greatest and most complete comebacks in sports history?

SIDE 1: Yes, last weekend we witnessed the culmination of the greatest comeback in sports history.

In order to appreciate this comeback and what went into it, we have to dive deep into how bad things got for Tiger. Flashback to 2008. Tiger was at the peak of his powers. Not only was he undoubtedly the greatest golfer of the last decade; he could have easily been argued as the best overall athlete of the past 10 years. It was basically a guarantee that he would soon break Jack Nicklaus' record for most career major golf titles. 

Then things went south quickly. It all started with rumors of Tiger having an affair with Rachel Uchitel. Shortly after that broke, Tiger infamously crashed his Escalade into a tree and fire hydrant. He then admitted to the cheating rumors and checked himself into a sex addiction clinic late in 2009. This caused most of his sponsors, including Gatorade, AT&T, and General Motors to drop their sponsorships with Tiger. But even this level of embarrassment and drama was not the valley for Tiger. After apologies and general resolution of the personal situations, the injuries started to pile up. He sprained his MCL and left Achilles at the 2011 Masters. In March 2012, back and knee injuries caused him to withdraw from several tournaments. Tiger perhaps reached his all-time low in 2016 when he fell out of the world rankings top 500 (unbelievable for a man recently seen as the greatest golfer of all time) while also missing about 15 straight months of golf due to injury. Woods was charged with a DUI in May 2017, leading to an infamous mugshot of the legendary golfer. It just seemed to be getting worse and worse for Tiger.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

But 2017 marked a turning point for Tiger. He stayed out of trouble and was finally able to stay healthy. This continued throughout 2018 as people began murmuring that he was back to old Tiger. This Sunday marked the official return. Given everything discussed above, his Masters victory this year was nothing short of incredible. Never have we seen an athlete reach a peak that Tiger reached, only to crash so quickly. But there is a happy ending to this story, and Sunday showed the expected level of jubilation from fans around the world. What struck me the most over the years is how the support for this troubled legend never wavered. The casual fan seemed to be unrelenting in their support for Tiger year after year as he struggled. This is why his victory Sunday was about more than golf: it was the greatest comeback in sports history for one of the most revered athletes of the last 20 years.

SIDE 2: No, Tiger’s triumph was great, but we can't overreact.

I don’t think anyone can deny how incredibly remarkable Tiger’s Masters win was this year, given everything he has been through in the last 10 years. Therefore, the main argument against this claim is that we should not overreact to what happened. The overall comeback is remarkable, but calling it the greatest comeback in sports history may be a stretch. With that being said, this really comes down to your own personal definition of a comeback. Comebacks can occur on a team or an individual level. Some would argue that a more impressive comeback actually occurred two weeks ago when Virginia won their first NCAA tournament only a year after they became the first #1 seed to be bounced in the first round of the tourney. On an individual level, Adrian Peterson rushing for over 2,000 yards and winning NFL MVP honors in 2012 only a year after tearing his knee up was perhaps the best individual comeback I have ever seen in my lifetime. 

These comebacks discussed are on a broader level. Tiger’s was ten years in the making. Peterson and Virginia had to wait over a year for their comebacks. However, comebacks can also occur on a more micro level. A playoff series comeback is another way to view this topic. Certain teams’ playoff comebacks can be viewed as more impressive than Tiger’s, which took 10 years. Two that come to mind off the top of my head are the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 and the Boston Red Sox in 2004. The Cavaliers famously came back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit against an NBA-record 73-win Warriors team by winning Games 5 and 7 on the road to take the title. 

The Red Sox were down 0-3 to their archrival Yankees foe in 2004. Boston won four in a row to win that ALCS series and later went on to break the Curse of the Bambino by capturing their first World Series title in 86 years.

The thing about Tiger’s comeback is that it was not out of nowhere like AP’s. Tiger has been playing good golf for a couple years now and most people would have told you they saw Tiger winning at least one more major championship. It wasn’t an absolute shock. While remarkable, it can certainly be argued that Tiger’s “comeback” was nowhere near some of the other amazing sports comebacks we have seen over the years.

My Take

Personally, I do not think this was the greatest comeback in sports history. There are just too many other legendary team and individual performances we have seen in past years. It’s not as if Tiger was on his deathbed a couple of months ago. As mentioned above, a lot of people saw this victory coming, and that is why I do not think it’s the greatest we’ve ever seen.

What do YOU think? Am I right that this is not the greatest sports comebacks of all time? If so, I want to hear what you think is the greatest comeback in sports history. Or am I wrong and we did just witness the best comeback ever? Sound off below!!

NBA expert and IU grad. '96 Bulls > Warriors. #FireGarPax

Twitter: @realdmill