Tiger Woods wins the Masters for the fifth time

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Welcome, friends, to the greatest comeback in sports history.

After all the scandals, all the injuries, all the surgeries, all the drama, all the he’s-done declarations, Tiger Woods has won the Masters. In 2019.

Nearly 11 years after his last major victory — the longest drought in golf history — Woods won the Masters by 1 stroke with a bravura 70 final round, keeping his head while the best of the next generation of golfers lost theirs. Six golfers held at least a share of the lead over the day, five tied with only a handful of holes left. But as it was in 1997, so it was 22 years later: Woods walking off the 18th green to delirious cheers, another green jacket awaiting him — his 15 major win in total.

With all due respect to the vast talents of Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari et. al., there are two storylines at every Masters: Tiger Woods, and everyone else. That’s not media bias or wishful thinking, that’s objective reality. Tiger draws the largest and loudest galleries, Tiger pulls in the biggest ratings, Tiger summons cheers at Augusta that don’t sound like anywhere else on earth.

RELATED: The most beautiful photos of Tiger Woods' golf game

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The most beautiful photos of Tiger Woods' golf game
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The most beautiful photos of Tiger Woods' golf game
NASSAU, BAHAMAS - DECEMBER 01: Tiger Woods of the United States hits his tee shot on the 17th hole during round one of the Hero World Challenge at Albany, The Bahamas on December 1, 2016 in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GREENSBORO, NC - AUGUST 23: Tiger Woods plays his second shot on the 17th hole during the final round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club on August 23, 2015 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, VA - JULY 31: Tiger Woods reads a putt on the 10th green during the second round of the Quicken Loans National at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club on July 31, 2015 in Gainesville, Virginia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, VA - JULY 30: Tiger Woods tees off on the 17th hole during the first round of the Quicken Loans National at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club on July 30, 2015 in Gainesville, Virginia. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
SHEBOYGAN, WI - AUGUST 12: Tiger Woods of the United States plays his shot from the 18th tee during a practice round prior to the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on August 12, 2015 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
SHEBOYGAN, WI - AUGUST 12: Tiger Woods of the United States hits a tee shot during a practice round prior to the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on August 12, 2015 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND - JULY 17: Tiger Woods of the United States looks on from the 5th tee during the second round of the 144th Open Championship at The Old Course on July 17, 2015 in St Andrews, Scotland. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 01: Tiger Woods of the USA plays his third shot on the par 5, third hole from the desert during the third round of the 2014 Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club on February 1, 2014 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 17: Tiger Woods of the USA watches his approach shot on the tenth hole during the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 17, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 17: Tiger Woods of the USA hits a shot on the practice ground before the start of the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 17, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
LA JOLLA, CA - JANUARY 27: Tiger Woods hits off the tee box during the Third Round at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines South Golf Course on January 27, 2013 in La Jolla, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
LA JOLLA, CA - JANUARY 28: Tiger Woods looks on from the 12th green en route to his -14 under victory during the Final Round at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on January 28, 2013 in La Jolla, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
MARANA, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Tiger Woods hits his second shot on the second hole during the first round of the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain on February 21, 2013 in Marana, Arizona. Round one play was suspended on February 20 due to inclimate weather and is scheduled to be continued today. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
MARANA, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 16th hole during the first round of the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain on February 21, 2013 in Marana, Arizona. Round one play was suspended on February 20 due to inclimate weather and is scheduled to be continued today. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Tiger Woods of USA plays a shot during the pro am of the Honda Classic at PGA National on February 27, 2013 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 01: Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on March 1, 2013 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 02: Tiger Woods walks off the fifth hole during the third round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on March 2, 2013 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
KIAWAH ISLAND, SC - AUGUST 10: Tiger Woods of the United States hits off the tenth tee during Round Two of the 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on August 10, 2012 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 21: Tiger Woods of the United States plays his tee shot at the par 4, 13th hole during the first round of the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard at Bay Hill Golf and Country Club on March 21, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
LYTHAM ST ANNES, ENGLAND - JULY 17: Tiger Woods of the United States hits a shot during the second practice round prior to the start of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes on July 17, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 16: (EDITORS NOTE: An infrared camera was used to create this image.) Tiger Woods of the United States hits his tee shot on the eighth hole during the third round of the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club on June 16, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 11: Tiger Woods of the United States hits his approach shot on the 18th hole during the second round of THE PLAYERS Championship held at THE PLAYERS Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass on May 11, 2012 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - MARCH 02: Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 12th hole during the second round of the Honda Classic at PGA National on March 2, 2012 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - MARCH 06: Tiger Woods walks off the 15th tee with swing coach Sean Foley during a practice round for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at the Trump Doral Golf Resort & Spa on March 6, 2013 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
CARMEL, IN - SEPTEMBER 07: Tiger Woods walks across a foot bridge towards the fourth hole tee box during the second round of the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club on September 7, 2012 in Carmel, Indiana. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 10: Tiger Woods of the USA prepares for a shot on the eighth hole as a plane flies over during day one of the 2011 Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club at The Lakes Golf Club on November 10, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)
WINDERMERE, FL - MARCH 15: Tiger Woods of the USA drives from the 7th tee during the second day of the 2011 Tavistock Cup at Isleworth Golf and Country Club on March 15, 2011 in Windermere, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 09: Tiger Woods walks to the 14th tee during the third round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 09: The shadow of Tiger Woods is seen as he hits from a bunker on the 17th hole during the third round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 10: Tiger Woods of the USA hits his tee-shot on the eighth hole during the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majlis course at the Emirates Golf Club on February 10, 2011 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
PEBBLE BEACH, CA - JUNE 17: Tiger Woods hits his second shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the 110th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 17, 2010 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 12: Tiger Woods of the USA walks up the18th fairway during day two of the Australian Masters at The Victoria Golf Club on November 12, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 10: Tiger Woods waits on the fourth tee during the second round of the 2009 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2009 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 11: Tiger Woods plays his tee shot on the fourth hole during the third round of the 2009 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2009 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 09: Tiger Woods tees off the 17th tee during the rain delayed 3rd Round of The Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2006 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 08: Tiger Woods walks down the 6th fairway during the rain delayed 3rd Round of The Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2006 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Getty Images)
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The difference in 2019 as opposed to recent history is this: Woods arrived in Augusta with his first legitimate chance to win in more than half a decade. He’d missed three of the last five due to health reasons, and he’d been irrelevant in the other two. Now, though, he’s as golf-ready as a 43-year-old can be, with another PGA Tour win in his pocket since last year.

Woods remains the biggest story in golf, but not the only story. Koepka is riding a Tiger-esque majors hot streak — two of the last three, three of the last seven — and Molinari has punched Tiger in the face while winning both the British Open and the Ryder Cup over the last nine months.

Thursday began under one of those classic Augusta skies, blue and deep and breezy, with the gallery buzzing and the birdies flying. This was one of those “future of golf” days, where Koepka and mad scientist Bryson DeChambeau took the early lead at -6. Right behind them: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and the usual collection of leaderboard cameos. Molinari and Woods lurked further down the leaderboard at -2.

Then came Friday, which was without question one of the strangest days in recent Masters history. Big names came out firing, and by the day’s end an unprecedented five major winners — Molinari, Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott and Jason Day — shared the lead at -7.

But we expected all that. What we didn’t expect was an enthusiastic security guard becoming part of Masters lore by slipping and sliding right into Woods’ ankle while trying to hold back a vicious Augusta gallery. Woods hobbled for a moment but ended up birdieing the hole, and CBS promptly memory-holed the footage.

Saturday was King Kong, Godzilla and Mothra all elbowing for space, with Tony Finau sneaking in there amongst them. Molinari, who once caddied next to Woods at a Masters, put distance between himself and the field with the relentless, mechanical precision of an avalanche. Woods and Koepka kept pace, and Finau snuck in with one of the three 64s on the day.

With ugly weather on the way, Augusta National moved tee times up — way, way up — almost six hours earlier than normal, splitting the field into two and tripling up the pairings. So there wasn’t much time to meditate on what a Masters Sunday with Tiger Woods in sight of the lead might mean to history before the leaders teed off.

Early on, Molinari seemed invincible, running his par streak to 49 holes and, as of the sixth hole, posting a three-stroke lead on the field. Molinari’s dead-eyed stare and clinical perfection — plus the fact that he had history against Woods — seemed to bode well for his chances, and ill for everyone who wanted to see Woods win his first major since 2008.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Patrons cheer as Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates his birdie on the 16th green during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

But then Woods nearly drained his approach on 7, Molinari bogeyed for a two-shot swing, and the door cracked open just a wee bit. Five holes later, Molinari put a shot into the drink on 12, and everything on the course turned sideways in a hurry, from the leaderboard to the skies.

Molinari’s shot into Rae’s Creek, fired just as the rain was starting to fall, dropped him into a tie with Woods, who played it safe on 12 and went for dry land rather than a risky shot at the pin. But the misfire also kicked the door wide open for a host of unlikely leaders, including Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Golf Twitter virtually ignited for the three minutes or so that Cantlay eagled 15 and grabbed the solo lead at -12. He promptly gave back the lead on the very next hole, but it was a nice run for a moment.

A couple strokes down the leaderboard, a horde of last-minute dive-bombers threw red numbers up on the board, trying to force their way into the green jacket conversation; Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Jon Rahm and Day pounded their way into double-figure below-par scores.

Day was the first one to the clubhouse, posting a mark of -11 after a clutch birdie on 18. At the time he finished, two players were tied with him and three sat one stroke ahead.

But Day’s clubhouse lead grew flimsier by the minute. Johnson birdied 17 and Koepka birdied 15 to join Woods, Schauffele and Molinari at -12.

Again: that’s four major winners — and Xander Schauffele — tied at -12 with four holes left to go in the Masters. If this wasn’t the greatest collection of talent ever to top a leaderboard this late in a major, it’d do just fine until someone came up with one.

And then the wheels started coming off. Molinari was the first to go, sending his hopes to a watery grave when he popped his approach on 15 off a branch and into the water. Fowler’s home-run swing fell just short, and he bogeyed the 18th. Johnson just skirted a birdie putt to finish at -12 and knock Day out of any chance at a playoff.

Woods, meanwhile, took the solo lead at the Masters with three holes to play after a smooth birdie on 15. He followed that with the second-best shot he’s ever pulled off at the 16th, a curling drop that left him inches for birdie.

Two-shot lead. Two holes to go. And all of a sudden it was the early 2000s again, Tiger Woods in red, walking down the fairway at Augusta after a perfectly striped tee shot, the gallery on its feet cheering him. The figure that Koepka, Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and so many others had admired as kids was here, stepping out of Golf Channel reruns to bust them down the leaderboard.

The last time Tiger won a major, his daughter was about to turn 1, his son not even born. Sunday, both were greenside to witness something they’d only ever heard about. At 43, Tiger Woods became the second oldest winner of the Masters, behind Jack Nicklaus.

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