As a triumphant Tiger Woods strolled up the 18th fairway, a mass of spectators surrounding the green made it impossible for countless fans to see him in his Sunday red.
They were reduced to staring at the manual scoreboard, listening for roars and, in a few cases, hopping up and down for a momentary glimpse.
Alex Irwin, a 20-year-old from Fort Myers, Fla., wearing a red “TW” golf shirt, used his self-described “decent” hops to catch a quick look.
“This is great — the return of the king,” he proclaimed.
Added his father, J.R.: “At least we’re going to hear the ending.”
And feel it.
The galleries roared powerfully enough Sunday to stir the century-old oak trees.
What Woods accomplished in winning his first major in 11 years will be listed among the greatest comebacks in sports history. Keeping it to golf, it tops Ben Hogan winning the U.S. Open 16 months after a near-fatal car crash and Jack Nicklaus donning his sixth green jacket at 46.
Just two years ago, Woods’ career appeared over. He was in need of back fusion surgery and could barely walk. He flew to Augusta for the Masters Champions Dinner in 2017 and confided in one of his fellow diners: “I’m done. I won’t play golf again.”
A month later police in Florida found him passed out behind the wheel of his Mercedes with five drugs in his system.
And all that came after a Golf Digest story carried this headline: “Tiger Woods is totally, completely, unequivocally, and utterly done.”
No wonder Woods’ 15th major victory produced near-hysteria on the grounds of Augusta National. Total strangers hugged one another.
“Unbelievable,” said the father of one touring pro. “(Bleeping) unbelievable.”
Woods, 43, embraced mother Tida after holing his final putt. It was reminiscent of the bear hug he gave late father Earl after his groundbreaking Masters victory in 1997, when he won by a tournament-record 12 strokes.
Woods celebrated Sunday’s win with daughter Sam and son Charlie. They had never stepped foot on the property before this week.
“To have them see their pops win, like my pops saw me win here,” Woods said, “it’s very special.”
As a beaming Woods marched toward the scoring tent to make his 13-under-par performance official, fans saluted him by waving their hats and visors in the air.
Several former Masters champions greeted Woods with hugs and high-fives.
Woods told the oft-emotional Bubba Watson: “I’m not crying yet.”
Watson replied: “You will, don’t worry.”
Many of Woods’ competitors, the business-savvy ones anyway, reacted to the victory with almost as much joy as Woods did.
“For the game of golf, Tiger Woods is going to push it to a new level,” Watson said. “I can’t wait to see the stories tomorrow and all the things that people say.”
Said Justin Thomas, who aced the 16th hole Sunday and finished five shots back: “Obviously I would have loved to beat him, but for the game of golf and the Masters, you couldn’t have drawn it up much better.”
Before Sunday, Woods had never won a major when trailing after 54 holes. He was two shots behind Francesco Molinari, the reigning British Open champion, as they headed to the 155-yard 12th.
A par-saving maestro, Molinari had bogeyed just two of 65 holes. But the golf gods curried favor on Woods, kicking up the wind on a stormy day.
Molinari dumped his tee shot into Rae’s Creek.
“It was probably a 9‑iron yardage,” he said, “but I didn’t want the wind to gust and to (affect) the ball too much. I tried a chippy 8-iron and didn’t hit it hard enough.”
When Molinari made double bogey to fall to 11 under, it was on.
Americans Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, known only to family members and serious golf fans, reached the summit of the leaderboard. So did major killer Brooks Koepka. A late birdie binge vaulted Dustin Johnson out of nowhere.
“There were so many different scenarios,” Woods said, “and so many guys that had a chance to win.”
Woods finally charged ahead with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 15th and a birdie on 16 after a brilliant tee shot to four feet.
After Koepka failed to make birdie on 18, Woods began the hole with a two-shot cushion — or “cush,” as he called it. He wisely played the hole like a par-5, pitching to 14 feet and two-putting for his fifth green jacket. After retrieving his ball, Woods raised both arms in triumph.
During Woods’ formal post-round news conference, moderator Craig Heatley commented: “This is clearly one of those monumental days in all of sport when people all around the world will say, ‘Where were you when Tiger won his fifth green jacket in 2019?’”
“Well, I know where I was,” he said. “I had a little one‑foot tap‑in.”