(CNN) — Tiger Woods clinched his fifth Masters championship and 15th major title to seal one of the greatest comeback stories in sports after overcoming career-threatening back problems.
Woods, 43, muscled his way through a tightly packed leaderboard to win by one shot at Augusta for his first major title in 11 years and first Masters win since 2005.
It completes a return for the most dominant player of his generation — and arguably the best ever — after enduring “dark times” through injury since 2014.
Woods underwent career-saving spine fusion surgery in 2017 and sealed a comeback season last year with his first win for five years.
Sunday’s victory puts the former world No.1 just three majors behind the all-time record of Jack Nicklaus.
Only fellow American Nicklaus has won more Masters, with six. Woods also joins Nicklaus as the only player to have won the Masters in three different decades after he clinched his first as a 21-year-old in 1997.
“It’s overwhelming just because of what has transpired,” Woods said in the Green Jacket ceremony in the Butler Cabin.
“Last year I was very lucky to be playing again. At the previous Champions Dinner I was really struggling and missed a couple of years of not playing this great tournament and now I’m the champion. Twenty two years between wins, it’s a long time and it’s unreal for me to experience this. My Mom was here, she was the in 1997 as well. I’m just so happy and excited and I’m at a loss for words.”
Woods began the day two shots behind Italy’s Francesco Molinari, and rode the roller coaster of a gripping final round to first share the lead after the Italian found the water in front of the short 12th.
Two holes later five players were tied at the top, but Woods’ birdie on the long 15th took him clear on his own. Another birdie on the short 16th took him two clear and ignited thunderous roars which reverberated around the towering pines as Woods marched off with a two-shot lead and a thousand-yard stare in scenes reminiscent of his heyday.
Sporting a red mock turtleneck in a nod to his last win at Augusta in 2005, and chewing gum throughout, Woods maintained his focus to edge world No.2 Dustin Johnson, three-time major champion Brooks Koepka and another American Xander Schauffele.
When the winning putt dropped, Woods clenched his fist and punched the air to tumultuous applause, before walking off the 18th to embrace his mother Kutilda, children Sam and Charlie, girlfriend Erica Herman and members of his team. Woods’ father and mentor Earl died in May 2006.
“To have my kids there, it’s come full circle,” Woods added. “My Dad was there in 1997 and now I’m the Dad with two kids there.”
The celebrations lasted an eternity as the patrons chanted “Tiger, Tiger” around the 18th green before a beaming Woods whooped and high-fived his way to the scorer’s hut.
Woods’ bogey at the last gave him a round of 70 for his first major title when trailing going into the final day.
“It’s been an epic Sunday here at the Masters and a great day for golf, just one of the most amazing days in our history,” said Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley.
But it’s Woods’ personal back story that gives the sporting achievement more resonance.
Many wrote Woods’ career off as his back injuries took their toll on his form, world ranking and quality of life.
He admits he struggled with everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, driving and taking his kids to school, and is widely reported to have confided at the pre-Masters Champions Dinner a couple of years ago: “I’m done.”
But after seeing a specialist in England, Woods underwent fusion surgery in the US and began his tentative return to hitting golf balls at home in late August 2017.
(PHOTO: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)