For Tiger Woods, the golf megastar who fell from grace a decade ago after admitting marital infidelity, the American belief in second chances seems to be working. His recovery, both morally and physically, could result in 2019 being his breakthrough year.
In April he claimed his fifth Masters green jacket, his first major tournament win in more than a decade. This fall Mr. Woods won his 82nd title on the professional golf tour, equaling the record held by Sam Snead. And Dec. 9-15 he will captain the U.S. team against international all-stars at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia.
In 2009 the young Mr. Woods had already won 14 major professional golf titles and looked as though he would easily break the record of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus. His remarkable skill and success had drawn new fans to the sport. He was rich (a net worth around $800 million, by some estimates) and world famous. He was also a black man succeeding in a sport dominated by whites. His prospects seemed unbounded.
But when he crashed his SUV into a tree in November 2009 his world quickly unraveled. He confessed to being unfaithful to his wife, which led to a divorce. And then a series of physical problems sent him down a long gamut of medical treatments and an addiction to painkillers.
But unlike some who might try to deny or hide their problems, Mr. Woods took responsibility for them in what looked like true contrition to his fans.
“I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated,” he confessed to friends and family, as well as to a gathering of news media. He realized, he said, that he had “stopped living by the core values” he had been taught by his parents.
His actions had sent out wider ripples as well.
“He disappointed all of us,” said Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, where the prestigious Masters Tournament is held each year. “Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.”
At one point Mr. Woods said his physical ailments might not only prevent him from ever playing golf again but keep him from having any hope of a normal life.
Vowing to reform is one thing. But the real task is to follow through and change one’s actions. The last decade has hardly been easy for Mr. Woods, who would attempt comebacks to the game only to face a physical setback and another long absence from the professional tour.
Now his famous work ethic and mental toughness, so important for success on the links, seem to have been joined by an equally deep dedication to raising his two young children, whom he tries to be with as much as possible. He may never dominate golf in the way he once did, but competing at a high level again seems to be enough.
“I think it’s been incredible,” says fellow pro Rory McIlroy, who himself has won four major titles. “I think it shows his character, his mental capacity, his grit that he can come back after all these mishaps, whether it be personal life or the physical injuries that he’s had to endure.”
Mr. Woods’ fall was a heartbreaking story of success crumbling into dust. Now he is writing a new story, one of the most amazing and inspiring comebacks in sports history. No doubt the forgiveness of his fans helped him down this long fairway.