By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Tiger Woods, with his Masters victory on Sunday, added the longevity label to a career that has changed the face of golf both on and off the course.
In ending an 11-year major drought by winning the Masters, Woods collected his 15th major title, 22 years and a day after it all began in the very same place at Augusta National.
He had long ago cemented his reputation as playing the greatest golf of all time — highlighted by a 12-stroke triumph here in 1997 and a 15-shot victory at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach — as distinct from having the greatest record ever.
That, as defined by major victories, belongs to Jack Nicklaus, whose 18 major victories were spread over 24 years, from the 1962 U.S. Open to the 1986 Masters.
Now Woods, 43, can claim similar longevity.
For a record total of 683 weeks, he occupied top spot in the world rankings. And from August 1999 to June 2002 he claimed seven majors in just 11 starts and became the first to hold all four modern major titles at the same time.
He also has 81 PGA Tour victories, one shy of the all-time mark held by Sam Snead.
Allied to his incredible physical skills, Woods has unshakable self-belief and an ability to completely shut out the distractions that come with the territory as one of the world’s most famous sportsmen.
Woods ushered in an era of multi-million dollar endorsements and was almost single-handedly responsible for a prize money explosion on the PGA Tour, while his Afro-American and Asian roots helped spread the sport to a huge global audience.
Many of the players he beat on Sunday were inspired as young boys to emulate Woods.
At 43, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Sunday’s victory will be his final major triumph.
But with a surgically-fused back that is allowing him to generate almost as much power as 20 years ago it would be brave to bet against a man who has already done the seemingly impossible time and time again.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)