It is rare for the major media organisations on this planet to agree on something.
But from the tabloids to the right wing press to the liberal broadsheets, all agreed on one thing: that Tiger Woods’s win at the Masters was the end product of one of the greatest sporting comebacks in history.
Just last week we wrote a column about Tara Moore’s incredible comeback from 0-6 0-5 down to win a tennis match, but what Tiger has achieved is nothing short of a sporting miracle.
Forget the extra-marital affairs and the alleged alcohol and prescription drug addiction, instead consider the four separate spinal injuries that at one point left the 14-time major champion unable to walk, let alone hit a golf ball.
Some 3,954 days since his last major win, Tiger Woods somehow achieved the impossible of outlasting Francesco Molinari and the rest of the field to win his fifth Masters title and slip into that green jacket once more.
It’s evident from the reaction of the patrons at Augusta and that of his fellow players, to the outpouring of unbridled joy on social media, that Tiger’s win is a popular one worldwide, and without sounding churlish it gives us all hope that we can achieve wonderful things in life even after we have hit rock bottom, whatever that means to us individually.
So were the media right, or were they guilty of typical hyperbole: was Tiger’s comeback the sort of story that even Hollywood would struggle to conjure up? Was this the greatest sporting renaissance of all time?
Let’s see how it stacks up against the competition.
Ali Floats Like a Butterfly
Perhaps the greatest comeback ever, Muhammad Ali spent three years away from boxing – barely lacing a glove in training – as he continued to conscientiously object to taking part in the Vietnam War.
Ali was barred from boxing by the US government having been arrested and charged with draft evasion, and it took nearly four years for the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.
He then returned to the ring, lacking sharpness and in less-than-ideal physical condition, but it was a start.
Ali battled his way back to somewhere near peak fitness, but suffered defeats to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, who broke Ali’s jaw on the way to a points loss.
Unbowed, Ali fought on and managed to avenge his defeat to Norton to set up a second bout with Frazier at Madison Square Garden. It was a much closer affair than their first fight, with Ali moving sharply to avoid Frazier’s dangerous left hand. In the end, he won on points and that put him back in the world title picture.
But nobody gave him a chance against the dangerous George Foreman in the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, and that was down to Foreman’s formidable knockout power.
Ali had a plan, though. He formulated the ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy, continually taking refuge on the ropes and allowing his opponent to fire at will. Foreman, visibly confused, laid into Ali at will, and at one point caught him flush with a perfect left hook.
But Ali was unmoved, and at the next clinch famously whispered in Foreman’s ear ‘is that all you got, George?’.
The champion, out on his feet after exerting so much energy, was a sitting duck as Ali came forward, and in the eight round Foreman was knocked out as Ali completed possibly the greatest sporting comeback in history.
Lauda Bares His Scars
Talk about overcoming adversity. Back in 1976 Niki Lauda was leading the Formula One world championship, but a freak accident at the old Nurburgring, the site of the German Grand Prix, left Lauda trapped in his car as it burst into flames.
He survived but was left permanently disfigured, and a series of other injuries and ailments forced him to lose the ’76 title to James Hunt; including, notably, the rain-hit Japanese Grand Prix when he was forced to retire after damage to his tear ducts left him unable to blink.
Most mere mortals would have walked away from the spot altogether, but not the Austrian. Wearing his facial scars with pride, he returned in 1977 and won a second world title to cap a fantastic comeback from horrific injuries.
Champion By Nature
In the late 1970s, Bob Champion was one of the most revered jockeys around, and most expected him to win plenty of big titles through the course of his career.
Unfortunately, life rarely goes as planned and in 1979 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer; at the time, that was still a highly rare disease.
Champion underwent rudimentary chemotherapy that was still in its infancy, and the side effects were so severe that he nearly died in his hospital bed on more than one occasions.
He subsequently said that the only thought that kept him going was riding in the Grand National, and after being given the all-clear by doctors he set about resuming his racing career.
Champion got his wish in the 1981 Grand National aboard Aldaniti, and that alone was considered remarkable comeback given how close he was to losing his life.
So when Aldaniti powered through the field at Aintree to win there was barely a dry eye in the house. Champion thrust his crop skywards, and the smile on his face tells its own tale of redemption and sacrifice.
Federer Aces His Doubters
When you pick up a serious knee injury as a tennis professional at the age of 34, the prognosis is similar to if somebody in their eighties contracts pneumonia: the worst is feared.
The 2016 campaign was something of a nadir for Roger Federer. After admitting that knee surgery as the only way to prolong his career, the Swiss ace had to miss the second half of the season; meaning he was absent from both the Olympic Games and the US Open.
It was the first year since 2000 that Fed failed to win a single title, and the first time in 14 years that he dropped outside the top 10 of the world rankings. He looked destined for the sporting retirement home.
But from somewhere he found inspiration. Remarkably, he won the first major tournament since he underwent career-threatening surgery at the Australian Open, and in the rest of 2017 he picked up a stack of ATP Tour titles and went on to win Wimbledon without dropping a set, making him the oldest champion on the SW19 grass in the modern era.
Federer was back and playing some of the best tennis of his life; not bad for a 35-year-old who most thought was finished as an elite-level player.