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Tiger Woods: From Dominant Young Star to Comeback King

Zach Thompson breaks down Tiger Woods’ career.

2019 Masters Photo by Augusta National via Getty Images

Tiger Woods dominated the golf world throughout the early 2000s, on his way to becoming one of the most well-known athletes in any sport and one of the greatest golfers of all time. Since golf is such an individual sport, with over 150 players each week chasing the same title, it’s very unusual for one player to dominate and win multiple tournaments against top fields. But for a while, it seemed like Woods was in contention and winning every meaningful tournament. As we celebrate the arrival of his NFT at the DraftKings Marketplace, let’s take a look at the highlights from his storied career and how Woods became such a legend.

Woods’ iconic career began at an extremely young age at the urging of his father, Earl Woods, who introduced Tiger to golf at the age of just two. He was a child prodigy and appeared on TV shows as early as age three when he putted against comedian, celebrity and avid golfer Bob Hope. Woods dominated from very early in his career, winning Junior events as soon as he met the minimum age requirements. He won the Junior World Championship six times, including four straight years between 1988 to 1991. In 1991, he also became the youngest player to ever win the U.S. Junior Amateur and was the first to ever repeat as champion in 1992. He remains the only player to win the title three times after winning again in 1993. The next year, he set a new record for the youngest player to ever with the U.S. Amateur in 1994.

During his standout college career at Stanford, he added two more U.S. Amateurs, won the NCAA individual golf championship, finished as low amateur at The Open Championship and even made the cut in his first PGA TOUR event, the 1995 Masters. At 20, Woods went pro and was named Sports Illustrated’s 1996 Sportsman of the Year and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year after quickly piling up wins in the fall of 1996. He had already picked up three tournament championships before rolling into Augusta in early 1997.

Woods announced his arrival in major championships with a resounding victory that year at the Masters, winning by 12 strokes over the loaded field. He opened up a nine-shot lead coming into the final round and cruised to an iconic victory in what felt like a coronation of golf’s new leader. The victory remains the record for widest margin of victory at the Masters. He also set a new record as the youngest to ever win the prestigious title and became the first non-white player to win at Augusta National.

He actually had a slower year in 1998 but found his groove in 1999 with eight tournament victories, including his first PGA Championship. In 2000, he went on a run and won an astounding six consecutive events on the PGA TOUR, which included his first U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach. Sports Illustrated called his win at the U.S. Open “the greatest performance in golf history,” as he again ran away from the field to finish with a 15-stroke margin of victory. At the end of 2000, Woods had won nine of the 20 events he had entered on the PGA TOUR and was again named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. He remains the only athlete to be honored with that title twice.

He continued to pile up wins throughout the early 2000s, including the 2001 Masters, which completed the “Tiger Slam” of four straight major championships, although not all in the same calendar year. He currently has 15 major championships, second only to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors championships. Woods is tied for the record for the most PGA TOUR wins with Sam Snead, winning a remarkable 82 tournaments over a span of 24 years. Most of those wins were top-tier events, too, with 18 wins at World Golf Championship events, including eight WGC-Bridgestone Invitational wins and seven WGC-Cadillac Championship wins.

Woods usually seemed to run away with tournaments and win by wide margins, but he also could win close, hard-fought victories. One of his most memorable major championships came in 2008, when he defeated Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Woods won the event, which was his 14th major, despite playing on a serious knee injury and hobbling around for much of the Monday playoff.

In his prime, Woods re-defined the game by hitting it farther than anyone ever had. He also demonstrated an exquisite short game, and great touch on and around the greens. Woods had an ability to intimidate his opponents and run away in tournaments, leaving everyone else scrambling for second while in awe of his power and precision.

After 2008 win, health concerns slowed down the previously unbeatable Woods. He had knee and back issues that kept him sidelined and limited for several years. He also struggled through multiple personal off-course issues, which took away from his public persona. Although he won 15 tournaments from 2009 to 2018, he failed to win any more majors, getting stuck in his pursuit of Nicklaus’ record — which at one point it seemed he would shatter easily.

In 2019, Woods turned back the clock with an extremely memorable win at Augusta National to claim his 15th major championship. It was an incredible comeback story and established a new record for the longest gap between wins at the Masters — it had been 14 years since Tiger donned the green jacket. Unlike in each of his previous 14 major championship wins, Woods actually didn’t hold the lead coming into the final round and came from behind to beat out Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele by one stroke and overnight-leader Francesco Molinari by two strokes after Molinari hit it in the water and the trees often throughout his back nine. Woods’ comeback and return to the top of the golf world brought his career full circle in many ways, including one of the most meaningful and memorable celebrations in golf history, celebrating on the 18th green with his children in nearly the same spot he celebrated his first major win in 1997 with his father, Earl.

Off the course, Woods was just as dominant a figure, becoming the face of golf for a new generation. He formed a very early partnership with Nike and helped it grow from a mainly basketball-focused brand into a real factor in the golf space. He launched his own “TW” brand under the Nike umbrella and became well-known for wearing red and black in final rounds on Sundays. His excellence and elite status made him a famous endorser of luxury brands. He also worked with EA Sports to create an extremely popular golf video game which was called Tiger Woods PGA TOUR from 1998 through 2013. The Tiger Woods games increased his popularity and made him the face of the sport in a partnership that brought in almost $771 million, according to ESPN.

Later in his career, Woods expanded his role as an ambassador of the game, becoming the host for multiple events on the PGA TOUR. When he is the host of the tournament, he often does major charity work around the community where the event is held through his Tiger Woods Foundation. The foundation’s focus is on helping empower minorities, especially underprivileged minority students, and has served over two million students, in-person and virtually, over its 25-year history.

Many of the current generation of star golfers grew up with Woods as their hero, so his influence continues to impact the current PGA TOUR. In fact, after winning the 2021 Fortinet Championship, Max Homa said he was out there looking for a “Tiger Woods moment.”

Woods is still a huge personality around the sport and is expected to be back around the game soon. While he isn’t expected to be able to attend the Ryder Cup due to injuries sustained in a recent car accident, he continues to be one of the most recognizable athletes of all time. For anyone who was dialed in to the sports scene in the early 2000s, there will nothing be quite like watching Woods stalk another major championship on Sunday, and his comeback story in 2019 was straight out of an “unrealistic” sports movie that actually came true.