As Tiger Woods let out a passionate roar of emotion on the 18th hole Augusta, it was official: One of sports’ greatest ever comebacks had been completed by one of golf’s greatest ever players. For Tiger, that simple putt ended an eleven-year wait for a major win, in a decade that had included severe injuries, infidelity and off-the-field issues which were thrust into the public eye.
His spinal surgery in 2017 put him on the road to recovery but few believed he would actually come back to the top of the game. On Sunday Tiger proved them all wrong, slipping on the Green Jacket for the fifth time in what has been an incredible career.
Only a handful of people have come back from the abyss to reach the pinnacle of their sport. Below we take a look at five of the best.
5) Ronaldo (Football)
Brazilian footballer Ronaldo was the best striker in the world in the late 1990’s as he tore defences apart for PSV and Barcelona. At just 21, he went to the World Cup as the most fearsome player in the world and with the hopes of a nation on his young shoulders. He had an incredible tournament, winning the Golden Ball, but ahead of the final against hosts France, he suffered a convulsive fit.
Before the match, he was added to and removed from the starting line-up several times before the player himself begged manager Mario Zagallo to start him. He unsurprisingly had little impact on the final as Brazil lost 3-0 but he survived when he should not have played at all.
A year later after a storming season for Inter, Ronaldo suffered another setback as his knee ‘exploded’. He ruptured his kneecap ruling him out for 17 months but he returned for the 2002 World Cup. Ronaldo won the Golden Boot and the World Cup for his country banishing the memories of four years previous. He won the Ballon d'Or that season before continuing his incredible career at Real Madrid and AC Milan.
No other footballer has played for AC and Inter Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid and been universally adored by all. Ronaldo, a true great.
4) Michael Jordan (Basketball)
‘I’m back.’ Those two words were all Michael Jordan needed to confirm his return to the NBA after three years out in 1995. MJ achieved a ‘three-peat’ with the Chicago Bulls, winning NBA Championships in 1991,1992 and 1993 as well as winning two Olympic gold medals and his celebrity status was through the roof.
His shock retirement came in October 1993 as he had fallen out of love with the game of basketball after the death of his father was murdered in North Carolina earlier in the year. He pursued a career in Minor League Baseball as it was his dad’s dream but struggled during that time with gambling problems.
He returned to basketball with the Bulls and reinvigorated, helped lead them to another three-peat winning the NBA Championship in 96, 97 and 98. He made another comeback in 2001 which was less successful but the greatest basketball player of all time first comeback was one of the best.
3) Monica Seles (Tennis)
Monica Seles was the top dog in women’s tennis in the early 90’s. She had won seven of the nine majors between 1991-1993 and almost only the Wimbledon title escaped her as she asserted her dominance on the court. However, then things went wrong.
During a quarter-final in Germany, she was stabbed between her shoulder blades with a boning knife by Gunter Parche, an obsessed fan of Steffi Graf. Seles was quickly rushed to hospital but did not return to tennis until 1995, having missed almost three complete seasons of tennis. She played in the US Open and reached the final but lost to rival Graf but her comeback was on.
In the French Open the following year she regained her crown and completed a remarkable comeback after a shocking assault. Seles played until 2003 but never fully recaptured her early 90’s form, and the French Open win in 1996 was her last success.
2) Tyson Fury (Boxing)
The best and most well-known comeback of recent years. Fury cruised his way through the division in the early part of his career with his eyes set on one thing, becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. He achieved that with a shock win over Wladimir Klitschko in Germany becoming the undisputed champion across the division.
Then things went wrong for Fury. Having achieved his lifetime goal he had nothing left to achieve and slipped into a deep depression. He has admitted to having drink and drug problems during that time and admitted he tried to commit suicide in his Ferrari on a bridge, driving at 190mph.
Having struggled to regain his boxing license in 2017, his first comeback fight was against Sefer Seferi, which he won with ease as he continued to lose weight during these first few fights. He had lost a remarkable ten stone over a year in the build-up to the Deontay Wilder fight, where he aimed to regain his WBC heavyweight title.
We all know what happened next. Fury was the huge underdog but outboxed Wilder for the majority of the fight, although he was dropped once. Then, in the twelfth round, Fury was knocked clean out but somehow climbed back to his feet during the count and fought on, landing some heavy punches at the end of the round.
Fury won that fight in everybody’s eyes except the judges, who scored it as a controversial draw. The people’s champ is not only a sporting inspiration but his work in terms of mental health awareness must be commended. Now, get this rematch on.
1) George Foreman (Boxing)
The best. George Foreman had a scintillating boxing career in his twenties that saw him become WBA, WBC and lineal heavyweight champion of the world. He lost all those titles in one of the biggest fights of all time, the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ against Muhammad Ali. He bounced back from that defeat with five wins before a loss to Jimmy Young caused him to hang up his gloves, aged 28, with a record of 45-2. After the Young fight, Foreman suffered from heatstroke and had a near-death religious experience which turned him into a born-again Christian.
He took a decade out of the ring and became an ordained minister, dedicating his life to Christianity. Aged 38, he returned to boxing in an attempt to raise funds for his youth center but at this point, he was overweight and out of shape. He fought his way back to fitness, winning 23 consecutive bouts to set up an undisputed heavyweight title decider against Evander Holyfield, aged 42.
He lost on points before losing his second shot at a heavyweight title to Tommy Morrison two years later. However, he did complete his remarkable comeback as he beat Michael Moorer with a brutal knockout and regained the tile he had lost 20 years earlier to Ali. At 45, he became the oldest Heavyweight champion ever and retained those belts until he was 48. He eventually lost to Shannon Briggs which brought an end to a spectacular career. Aged 48, he won 76 and lost 5 of his 81 bouts.