There is no bigger storyline in golf than Tiger Woods. Is he really back? Will he win another major? There has not been this much interest in El Tigre — or pro golf for that matter — in a long time. While we look forward to what's next for Woods, it's fun to glance back. Here we go, taking a trip through the years with one of the greatest golfers of all time.
Woods might as well have been born with a silver putter in his hand. He was already successfully swinging clubs at age 2, as taught by his golf-obsessed father, Earl Woods. One of our earliest glimpses of Tiger came in 1978 when he appeared on "The Mike Douglas Show" alongside Bob Hope.
Already the best junior golfer in the country, a 16-year-old Woods played in his first professional event at the 1992 Los Angeles Open. He went 72-75 for a 5-over, two-round score, which was not good enough to make the cut. However, golf fans knew it was only a matter of time before he would become the sport's next great name.
Woods recorded the first of his three straight U.S. Amateur titles with an improbable comeback victory over Trip Kuehne at the TPC Sawgrass in 1994. At age 18, Woods became the youngest golfer to win the prestigious national championship. His initial victory at the event is regarded as one of the greatest moment in the history of American amateur golf.
It was 1995 when Woods made his first appearance in the field at the Masters. The foundation was certainly laid that weekend, as he was the only amateur to make the cut. Woods tied for 41st in what was also the first major tournament he played in. Interestingly, he missed the cut the next year — the only time that happened in his career at the event.
In 1996, Woods won the last of his three straight U.S. Amateurs. That was also the same year he won the individual NCAA national championship while at Stanford. Playing outside Chattanooga, Tiger shot a final-round 80 and still won the event with plenty to spare. Though Woods played just two seasons for the Cardinal, he's always talked fondly of the experience.
In one of the most anticipated moments in golf history, Woods turned pro in August 1996, at age 20, and played in his first event after shedding his amateur status the same month at the Greater Milwaukee Open. He finished tied for 60th at the tournament but recorded a hole-in-one. Woods' first professional victory came in October of the same year at the Las Vegas Invitational in a playoff over Davis Love III.
Most golf pundits and PGA Tour members knew Woods was headed for greatness, but the dominance began relatively early. With three Tour wins under his belt, the 21-year-old became the youngest winner of the Masters in 1997. He did it in record-breaking fashion, winning by 12 strokes at 18-under. Tiger's first of 14 major victories also made him the first non-Caucasian golfer to win the event. In '97, Woods also made his meteoric rise to the No. 1 ranking in the world.
After winning just once in 1998, Woods' two-season run of dominance began in '99. He won eight times that year, highlighted by the memorable PGA Championship outside Chicago, where he edged a budding star named Sergio Garcia. While Woods' season in '99 was one most Tour members wouldn't experience in multiple careers, it was a table-setter for what was to come in 2000.
Woods' run in 2000 is arguably the greatest individual season in PGA Tour history. He won nine times, including a historic performance at the U.S. Open (15-stroke victory), the Open Championship and PGA Championship to become the youngest golfer to claim golf's career Grand Slam at 24 years old. Woods finished at least 12-under in each of his 2000 victories.
From 2001-03, Woods posted 15 Tour victories, highlighted by two Masters wins and a U.S. Open title. By 2004 Tiger was one of the biggest celebrities on the planet, but he won just once that year (Match Play Championship). The highlight of 2004 for Tiger came off the course in October when he married girlfriend Elin Nordegren.
Following that down 2004 professional season, Woods got his groove back in '05. He won six times, including the Masters and Open Championship. He also returned to the top of the world rankings. Things seemed to be all rosy for Tiger, who was now a married man and once again the best golfer on the planet.
Woods posted two wins early in 2006, but in May his mettle was put to the test. Father, mentor and best friend, Earl, died at age 74. Earl's death devastated Tiger and hindered his game shortly after. However, an emotional victory at the Open Championship opened the door for five more PGA Tour victories, including another PGA Championship crown. It also showed how tough he was in the face of adversity — or so we thought.
Seven wins followed for Tiger in 2007, but 2008 proved to be one of his toughest in terms of health. Knee surgery in April kept him out of action for a bit. However, one of Woods' greatest and most inspirational victories came at the '08 U.S. Open. Hobbled by the knee, Tiger struggled early but fought his way back into contention and ended up winning at Torrey Pines in a playoff over Rocco Mediate. Woods announced shorty after the win that the knee would force him to miss the rest of the season. That's still his most recent major victory.
Nearly all of the 2009 calendar year was pleasant for Woods, at least on the surface. He won six times, but the bottom essentially fell out of his personal life in November. First, reports surfaced that Woods had an affair with New York club manager Rachel Uchitel. Soon after, he crashed his Escalade near his home. Tiger called the latter a "private matter," but in December more reports of his alleged infidelity came to light. He publicly admitted to cheating and apologized to his family and friends. He also said he would step away from the game, indefinitely.
Despite his personal issues, Woods was determined to return to the course in 2010. First, he needed to let the world know the state of the Tiger. In his famed February press conference, Woods spoke of his therapy stint and again apologized for his foolish behavior. Woods did not win in 2010, but he tied for fourth at both the Masters and U.S. Open. However, in August he and Elin Nordegren divorced.
Woods won his own Chevron World Challenge in 2011, but otherwise it was a rough effort on the PGA Tour. Leg issues contributed to his struggles at the time, and his world ranking plummeted into the 50s. Perhaps the biggest news involving Woods in '11 came in July with his decision to fire longtime caddie Steve Williams. The New Zealand looper was shocked by the news, though there reportedly had been growing estrangement between the two friends off the course.
For the first time since September 2009, Woods posed with a trophy on the PGA Tour. His first Tour win in more than two years came in March 2012 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He shot 13-under to win by five strokes and reassert himself as a champion. Tiger won twice more in 2012 and five times in '13, including The Players Championship.
The story in 2014 for Woods was pain...as in the back pain that would hinder his career for a lengthy stretch. Coming off strong showings in 2012 and '13, Woods made just seven starts on the PGA Tour and underwent back surgery in '14. He missed both the Masters and U.S. Open, finished 69th at the Open Championship, and failed to make the cut at the PGA Championship.
After missing the cut at the last three majors of 2015, Tiger underwent another back surgery in September 2015. As things would have it, Woods did not play a single event on the PGA Tour in 2016, meaning for the first time in his career he sat out all four major tournaments. Another surgery on the back came in December 2016, and another golf-free hiatus followed.
Away from golf, still rehabbing his back, Woods found himself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons once again. In late May 2017, he was arrested near his Florida home for a DUI. Tiger claimed he was taking prescription drugs at the time of the incident. In August of that year, Woods pleaded not guilty and agreed to enter a diversion program. In October '17, Woods plead guilty to reckless driving and was placed on probation with community service.
Despite all of his off-course issues in 2017, Tiger returned to the course late that year at the Hero World Challenge. He played well enough (tie for ninth) to believe he could still be a factor on the PGA Tour. At the time, there were plenty doubters eyeing Woods, who also wondered if he could ever return to the elite golfer he was for so many years.
So maybe that strong round in the Bahamas late in 2017 was the beginning of the Tiger resurgence. Not since taking the golf world by storm while winning the Masters in 1997 has the excitement and anticipation surrounding Woods' game been this high. In 2018, Tiger made 16 of 18 cuts, recorded seven top 10s and finished seventh on the Money List. He led at the Open Championship and finished second at the PGA Championship.
While Woods enjoyed a stellar comeback in 2018, he was winless on the campaign heading into The Tour Championship in September. That changed when he posted a pair of 65s and ended up shooting 11-under to beat Billy Horschel by two strokes for his first PGA Tour win since the Bridgestone in August 2013.
For all that went right for Woods in 2018, his biggest failure came during America's rather embarrassing loss to Team Europe at the Ryder Cup in France. Woods, who originally was part of the team as a vice-captain, made it as one of Jim Furyk's captain picks. Even though he had his moments in '18, some questioned Woods and fellow star Phil Mickelson being on the roster. That doubt was reinforced after Tiger went 0-4 to go winless for the first time in his Ryder career.
All eyes will definitely be on Tiger in 2019. His 2018 resurgence laid the groundwork for a potentially big run this year. He'll be careful with his schedule and body and won't try to overdo it. Will a major victory be in the cards? Many believe so. El Tigre shot a final-round 67 to tie for 20th at the Farmers in late January.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.