The life and times of golf’s biggest star
By Ben Church, Ben Morse and Steven Poole, CNN
“Golf is the closest game to the game we call life,” Bobby Jones -- the only man to win golf’s four major tournaments in one year -- once said. “You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots, but you have to play the ball where it lies.”
It seems an apt quote to sum up the man who is arguably the greatest golfer in the history of the game: Tiger Woods. From his storming debut and the “Tiger Slam” to the lows of scandal and personal tragedy and back to golf’s pinnacle with one of the legendary comebacks in sport, Woods is a figure who has seen and lived through it all. Honoring his tally of major titles to date, CNN looks at 15 moments that have defined the career of one of the world’s greatest athletes.
After winning multiple tournaments as a junior, a much-talked-about Eldrick “Tiger” Woods made his first major appearance aged 19 at the Masters in 1995. He went on to finish tied-41st but showed glimpses of the player he was destined to become.
Woods joined the PGA Tour in 1996 at the age of 20. He went on to be named Rookie of the Year after winning two tournaments and finishing in the top 10 three times in just eight starts.
The American showed his true potential during his first full year on the PGA Tour, winning his maiden major title and becoming world No. 1 for the first time. His victory at The Masters was even more special given he won by a record 12 strokes. He finished as PGA Player of the Year and competed in his first Ryder Cup.
Woods ended the season having broken or tied 27 PGA Tour records and winning three consecutive majors. At the age of 24, he had completed a career grand slam by adding the US Open and the Open Championship to his trophy cabinet, winning the former by a record 15 strokes. A year later, he completed the “Tiger Slam,” holding all four major titles at the same time.
Having signed a new bumper sponsorship deal with Nike the previous year, Woods continued to excel on the course. He finished the year having won the most prize money on the PGA Tour and was PGA Player of the Year for the fifth time in six years.
Having reached the tally of 10 major victories, 2006 was a real test for Tiger. His father Earl died in May at the age of 74, but Woods was able to use it as motivation to win two highly emotional major titles at the PGA Championship and the Open Championship.
After his remarkable 2008 US Open title win and pulling within four of Jack Nicklaus’ major record, Woods looked set to break the “Golden Bear’s” mark. However, a knee operation sidelined Tiger for two months and stunted his astronomic course -- a sign of the injury problems that were to later plague his career.
Following tabloid rumors of an extramarital affair, news of a car collision with a tree and fire hydrant yards from Woods' Florida home broke days later. Tiger announced in December 2009 that he would be taking a break from the game of golf. Two months later, Woods released a statement admitting his “transgressions" -- after which numerous sponsors cut ties with him -- before an infamous press conference at the PGA Tour headquarters in Florida. "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated," he told the world’s media with his mother Kultida sitting in the front row. Despite attempts to patch up his marriage, divorce from Elin followed later that year.
Having returned to competition in April at the 2010 Masters, where he finished tied for fourth place, Woods struggled to regain his dominant form. He withdrew from the Players Championship citing injury and shortly afterwards, Hank Haney -- Woods' coach since 2003 -- resigned. After hiring Sean Foley, the rest of the season went poorly and Tiger failed to win a tournament in a season for the first time in his pro career.
Persistent injury niggles and swing changes hampered Woods, causing a tumble down the golf rankings. After a fruitful 2012 in which he moved to second on the all-time list of PGA Tour victories behind Sam Snead, 2013 signalled the return of dominant Tiger. He won five events, as well as finishing in the top five three other times, to move back to world No. 1.
However, at the moment he looked to have recaptured his best form, Woods was hit by serious injury problems. Four back operations, including spinal fusion surgery, led to "dark times," where the pain was so bad he couldn't even get out of bed or play with his kids. There were aborted comebacks, a leaked clip from a Masters Champions Dinner where Woods admitted his career was "done" and his world ranking plunged outside the top 1,100. An arrest on a DUI charge and an addiction to painkillers used to treat his back followed and had many questioning whether this was the end for the golfing great.
Against all odds, clips of Woods practicing trickled through social media in 2018, igniting speculation about a potential comeback. The old shots were finding their mark as Woods pushed Brooks Koepka to the wire at the 2018 PGA Championship. The scenes of a stampeding mass following Woods as he strode to victory in the season-ending Tour Championship were the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters. But the culmination of one of sport’s greatest ever comebacks was finally complete at the 2019 Masters as Woods clinched a fifth Green Jacket and a 15th major title -- his first for 11 years.
At the PNC Championship in December, Team Woods stole the show as both Tiger and his son Charlie took to the course, captivating fans in matching red shirts. The father and son team -- who finished seventh among a 20-team field -- went back home with "memories we'll have for our entire lives." After feeling discomfort during the tournament, Woods underwent the fifth back surgery of his career.
Shortly after 7 a.m. PT in Rancho Palos Verdes, near Los Angeles, Woods was driving when his SUV crossed a median, went across two lanes of road before hitting a curb, hitting a tree and landing on its side off the roadway in the brush. No other vehicles were involved. A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, who was first on the scene, said Woods was lucid and calm, wearing his seatbelt and able to tell him his name was Tiger.
Using a pry bar and ax, the 15-time major champion was removed from the vehicle with the aid of a backboard, neck collar and leg splints. Taken by ambulance to the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, he arrived in a serious but stable condition and underwent surgery on his injured legs.