SHARE
Tiger Woods | Wiki­media Commons

When Tiger Woods rolled into his final putt on Sunday to win his fifth Masters title and 15th major cham­pi­onship, he answered the question that hung over the golf world for a long time: How does Tiger compare to the current gen­er­ation of great golfers?

It was Woods’ own greatness that gave rise to the gen­er­ation of golfers he had to defeat to win his first Masters Cham­pi­onship since 2005.

When Woods won his first major title at Augusta National in 1997, Pulitzer-Prize winning sports­writer Dave Anderson of the New York Times pro­posed dividing golf history into two eras: before-Tiger and after-Tiger. Anderson foresaw that Tiger’s ath­leticism and suave demeanor, com­bined with his ability to bring non-white golfers to the game, would create a new golfing land­scape. Anderson pre­dicted this even before Tiger won the “Tiger Slam” and held all four major titles at the same time — widely con­sidered the greatest golfing achievement of the modern era.

Tiger himself pre­dicted that his example would breed a new gen­er­ation of golfers.

“I think more young people will start to play the game,” Woods said. “I think that barrier, where young people haven’t nor­mally pursued golf, I think that now kids will think golf is cool, really. And I think they will start playing it.’’

That new gen­er­ation of golfers are household names now.

Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson fit the mold of the “after-Tiger Era” pro­fes­sional golfer. Pow­erful, ath­letic, and treated like rock­stars, they have nine major cham­pi­onships between them.

Facing this crowd of tal­ented chal­lengers was Woods — now 43-years and four back surg­eries old. Before last fall, he hadn’t won in five years. Many doubted, myself included, whether Woods would be able to compete with the new gen­er­ation in his state of dis­repair.

Sunday’s win proves beyond a doubt that Tiger can still compete and win at the highest level with the current gen­er­ation of top golfers, tal­ented as they are. Some could argue we already knew that. After all, last year Woods led the British Open, fin­ished second in the PGA Cham­pi­onship, and won the Tour Cham­pi­onship.

But until Sunday, I wasn’t con­vinced. Woods played his best golf since 2012 in last year’s PGA Cham­pi­onship, shooting an impressive 14 under-par, but he still couldn’t beat Brooks Koepka, who has dom­i­nated the major cham­pi­onships in a way not seen since Tiger did in the early 2000’s.

Coming into the Masters, Koepka had won three of his last six major cham­pi­onship starts, and coming down the stretch this past Sunday, it was Koepka that Woods had to beat.

Woods did beat Koepka, and proved he deserves to be rec­og­nized as one of the best golfers in the world.

Woods silenced the ever-present doubters. These naysayers con­tended that Woods wouldn’t have been as dom­inant in his youth if players like Koepka or McIlroy had been around when Woods was winning major cham­pi­onships in bunches.

If Woods can go beat the best players of this gen­er­ation in his current con­dition, there is no way any of them could have slowed him down in his prime when his back actually worked and he played more than just the occa­sional event.

This is not to demean the new gen­er­ation of golfers, some of whom will undoubtedly be con­sidered the top-ten golfers of all time. Woods is simply on another level.

It’s exactly as Tiger’s fre­quent com­petitor and “frenemy,” Phil Mick­elson, once said in an interview with Golf Mag­azine: “There is nobody in the game that I have seen that is remotely close to the level of per­for­mance Tiger was in his prime,” Mick­elson said. “Men­tally, short game, or ball striking, I don’t think anybody matches him in any of those areas. And Tiger put them all together in one to create a career that is mind-bog­gling in the game of golf.”

Sutton Dun­woodie is a junior studying Political Economy.