DAZED and haggard, the Tiger Woods in the police mugshot seemed destined to be how the world would remember him.
The one-time golfing hero had been found slumped at the wheel of his Mercedes on a Florida highway on May 29, 2017.
Tiger Woods’ girlfriend Erika was at his side at his Tour Championship win in September 2018[/caption]
The engine was running, two tyres were blown and five different drugs were coursing through his veins.
One of sport’s greatest icons had become a slurring wreck. His career, derailed by crippling injury and a string of affairs, seemed over.
Yet just 674 days later, in an incredible turnaround, he ended his 11-year drought to win his fifth Masters, the 15th time he had claimed on of the game’s big-four tournaments.
The chants of “Tiger Tiger” as he took to Augusta’s 18th green on Sunday was the sound of redemption.
This year he was able to celebrate again with his son Charlie[/caption]
And the snap of the delighted dad celebrating by hugging his ten-year-old son Charlie was a world away from that harrowing mugshot.
It also had wonderful echoes of Tiger pictured hugging his beloved dad Earl after winning at Augusta in 1997 — his very first Major.
‘I’ve come full circle’
On Sunday Tiger was also embraced by the three women in his life — Thai mum Kultida, 75, daughter Sam, 11, and girlfriend Erica Herman, 33.
Along with young Charlie, they are Team Tiger, and are credited with his amazing upturn in fortunes.
Donald Trump said yesterday the golfing great is even in line for a Presidential Medal of Freedom — one of the US’s highest civilian honours.
Tiger, 43, said: “It feels like I’ve come full circle. I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple of years ago.
The adorable picture with his son is reminiscent of the one showing Tiger hugging his dad Earl after winning his very first Major[/caption]
“I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit, couldn’t lay down. I really couldn’t do much of anything.
“This is just unreal. This has meant so much to me and my family, this tournament, and to have everyone here, it’s something I’ll never, ever forget.
“I think the kids are starting to understand how much this game means to me . . . For them to see what it’s like to have their dad win a major championship, I hope that’s something they will never forget.”
Tiger strolled from the green and straight into the loving arms of Erica, his girlfriend of two years.
The Tiger Team – Kultida, Charlie, Sam and Erika – were stood by to support him[/caption]
Last year Wally Goodwin, Tiger’s old coach at Stanford University in California, said there was “new calmness” about Tiger, and suggested Erica might be the reason.
He added: “Something has fundamentally changed. There is a difference in the way he walks and carries himself. He even has a calmer expression. If this new girl of Tiger’s comes from a fairly humble background and is down to earth, I believe he will be responding well.”
Tiger’s return to winning ways has certainly coincided with falling for Erica, after she became general manager of his pop-up restaurant, The Woods Jupiter, in February 2017.
A friend said at the time: “Tiger has had such a turbulent year, what with his problems with the police and his back surgery, but Erica has stood by him all the way.
“They get on incredibly well and she is not put off by his past troubles with women.”
Others have been less kind, describing Erica as “a gold-digger” and a “big partyer”. There were also claims that she and Tiger became an item when he was still dating former stylist Kristin Smith, 34.
By October 2017, Erica’s status as Tiger’s partner became official when she wore a “player spouse” badge at the President’s Cup, when Tiger was in the American team for the competition.
She was also by his side two days later in a Florida court when he pleaded guilty to reckless driving after being found drugged to the eyeballs on painkillers.
Tiger has come full circle after having ‘serious doubts after what transpired a couple of years ago’[/caption]
And last year they were caught whispering “I love you” to one another after he won the PGA Tour championship.
Erica certainly seems more down-to-earth than some of Tiger’s previous harem of blondes. She grew up in a modest rented bungalow in the Florida town of Boynton Beach.
Her former next-door neighbour reportedly said her late dad Charlie was a drinker. Her mum Arlene remarried and last year was said to be living in a “rather nice” trailer. The neighbour recalls Erica as “a smart girl” who wanted to better herself.
Armed with a college degree, she went into business. She planned to set up five nightclubs in Orlando alongside then boyfriend Jesse Newton, and a third partner, borrowing £153,000.
When Tiger and Erika first appeared together people branded her a ‘gold digger’[/caption]
But the business failed and their investor successfully sued Erica for the cash, plus more than £31,000 in fines, interest and costs.
She was ordered to pay the debt in instalments of around £225 a week — to be deducted at source from the money she earns for running Tiger’s restaurant.
Court papers also reveal that in 2012 a bank sued her for £9,900 she borrowed to buy a BMW. In 2014 she and Newton were served with an eviction notice after allegedly failing to pay rent for two years.
And in December 2017, debt collectors filed another suit against Erica for thousands of dollars’ worth of goods bought on credit for the Florida clubs. The case closed after the debt agency failed to find her.
Their couple status became official when she wore a ‘player spouse’ badge at the President’s Cup, and she’s been by his side ever since[/caption]
Now, she will be easy to spot — as the girlfriend of perhaps the world’s greatest ever sportsman.
Tiger’s turnaround is nothing short of extraordinary. One writer compared his comeback to “Muhammad Ali returning from three years in exile”. Many believe it was the death of his beloved father that tipped Tiger into the abyss in the first place.
Womanising Earl — a former lieutenant-colonel in the Green Berets, who served two tours of Vietnam — died of prostate cancer in May 2006, when Tiger was at the height of his powers. He spent hours on the course with Earl, becoming a golfing prodigy aged three.
He said: “My dad was my best friend and greatest role model.”
Despite all of his troubles, Tiger has always remained a devoted dad to Charlie and Sam[/caption]
After turning professional at 20, Tiger became the world’s highest-paid athlete. He was the first black person to dominate golf, once a preserve of wealthy white men.
Between 1997 and 2008 he won 14 majors and amassed £1.1billion in prize money and endorsements.
Yet after Earl’s death there followed a devastating fall from grace — a lost decade in which Tiger’s marriage broke down and he ended up being treated for sex addiction.
In November 2009 his wife Elin Nordegren, the mother of his children, confronted him over a text he had sent to nightclub hostess Rachel Uchital saying: “You are the only one I’ve ever loved.”
He is also on good terms with ex wife Elin after he admitted to bedding 120 women while they were together[/caption]
Tiger had taken a sleeping pill but, after a blazing row, he sped off in his car. Still groggy, he hit a tree. Elin is said to have smashed the SUV’s back windows with a golf club.
A slew of other women emerged with sleazy stories of sleeping with Tiger. He reportedly admitted to bedding 120 women when treated in a Mississippi sex addiction clinic in 2010.
‘Quality of life’
All his God-given talent and fame now meant nothing as his career crashed and his lucrative sponsors dropped him.
Meanwhile, crippling injuries would see him go five years without a big win and a slump as low as 1,199th in the world rankings.
In homage to his late father he became so obsessed with the US Navy Seals that he was taken into the desert to witness a mock raid on an Afghan village. He would also play video game Call Of Duty for eight hours in a row.
Once one of the world’s greatest sportsmen, he said, shockingly: “The greatest thing that could happen is to not be remembered.”
Yet during his dark days those who know him well say Tiger remained a devoted dad to Charlie and Sam, and he is even said to be on good terms with ex-wife Elin.
If Tiger seemed haunted mentally, he was also cursed by physical ill health. In April 2017 he had his fourth spinal surgery in less than three years. Six weeks after the op he was found slumped at the wheel, dosed up to cope with the pain.
Yet it was a turning point. He got his clubs out and hit the course.
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He said: “My last surgery was more about quality of life than getting back playing competitive golf again. I thought the best I could hope for was to walk properly again, maybe play soccer with my kids.”
Then last September, when he won the PGA Tour championship in Atlanta, the whooping fans had clearly forgiven him — as was the case in Augusta on Sunday.
The Tiger roars once again.
After his spinal surgery, Tiger had a turning point and was able to return to the course[/caption]
Now in an incredible turnaround, he has won his fifth Masters, returning to the chants of ‘Tiger Tiger’ – the sound of redemption[/caption]
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