House lights dimmed Sunday afternoon, the spotlight focused on one man standing center stage in the most famous theater of golf. On the 18thgreen at Augusta National, Tiger Woods raised his arms and roared a cry of triumph and relief. Thousands of fans lining the fairway and ringing the 18thgreen cheered long and loud for their redeemed hero. His mother Kultida, his son Charlie, and his daughter Sam stood behind the ropes just off the green waiting to embrace him. Unfortunately, Earl Woods was not there to hug his son, now 43, as he was in 1997, when Tiger won his first Masters. Earl died in 2006.
A decade after careening off the path of fame, fortune and major championships, and after years of struggling with personal failures, injury and addiction, Tiger Woods was back. And what better place than Augusta National Golf Club -- and what better tournament than the Masters, which he won for the fifth time -- to begin the Second Act of his career?
He has won 15 major tournaments now, 81 overall, and the way he is playing rekindled speculation that he just might be equipped to make a run at Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Masters, U.S. Open, PGA and British Open titles.
What a comeback. To return to the top of the game, Woods had to overcome addiction to sex and drugs, public humiliation, disabling pain, and multiple surgeries. His marriage fell apart as a result of his philandering. His body fell apart as a result of injuries. His game fell apart along with the rest of his life. His days as the greatest player in golf looked as gone as a tee shot diving toward the water.
But years of disappointment and heartache slipped off his shoulders as Patrick Reed, the 2018 champion, slipped on the green jacket of the Masters champion.
Tiger Woods is the latest celebrity to fall from grace, recover and earn a second act. Even if he does not win another tournament, the world will remember how he overcame tremendous obstacles to win the Masters, the most prestigious tournament in golf.
Woods reminds me of former football stars Paul Hornung and Alex Karras. Hornung, the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame, played halfback for the great Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960s. Karras was a superb defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions in the ‘60s. NFL Comissioner Pete Rozelle suspended each of them in 1963 for betting on NFL games. They missed the 1963 season but were reinstated for 1964. Hornung had apologized by then, played another three years and was subsequently elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Karras retired in 1970. He had a successful career as a film and TV actor but never apologized for his gambling, a reason many believe he is not in the Hall of Fame.
He reminds me of baseball slugger Mark McGwire, whose home run records were tainted by his use of steroids. He later apologized and became a successful hitting coach for the Cardinals, Dodgers and Padres.
He also reminds me of Alex Rodriguez, the disgraced New York Yankee with a history of drug use. He was suspended for the 2014 season, apologized to Commissioner Rob Manfred, returned to the Yankees and, slowed by injuries, retired during the 2016 season. He became a media personality and today is a popular and respected television analyst for ESPN.
Second acts abound in the political world as well, but two stand out. Richard M. Nixon resigned as President of the United States in 1974 for his role in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in. He never really apologized but after a period of exile emerged as a statesman. Today he is remembered for fostering a relationship with China as well as for Watergate.
Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci enjoyed second and third acts as Mayor of Providence. He resigned after assaulting this wife’s alleged lover and became a popular radio talk show host. He was re-elected but forced to resign again after a federal corruption conviction. He spent close to five years in prison and after his release resumed his radio career, more popular than ever. Three years after his death, he remains one of the most recognizable figures in recent Rhode Island history.
Comebacks? Second acts? After four days at Augusta climaxed by his one-stroke victory on Sunday, Tiger Woods knows all about them.