Riley On Tiger: "If He’s Not The Greatest Sportsman Ever, I Don’t Know Who Is"

Wayne Riley reflects back on Tiger Woods' iconic victory at the 2019 Masters.

If He’s Not The Greatest Sportsman Ever
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wayne Riley reflects back on Tiger Woods' iconic victory at the 2019 Masters.

Riley On Tiger: "If He’s Not The Greatest Sportsman Ever, I Don’t Know Who Is"

I want to journey back to that magical week at Augusta in 2019 and discuss what his 15th Major means in the grand scheme of things.

I was back home in Australia and had to set my alarm for 3am because of the fact they moved the tee times forward, which I wasn’t particularly thrilled about! But I’d soon forgotten about that as I watched one of the most memorable and significant final rounds in the history of professional golf.

It was actually something I’d predicted, too. I could see at The Players that he was right up for it and that he was trending in the right direction. I got asked when I got back to Australia who I fancied and I said him or Dustin Johnson. There was just something about the way he conducted himself at The Players. It was like the old Tiger. He was building for something big. But when I did breakfast TV back home before the first round and I said Tiger, everyone laughed at me! Well, Tiger’s laughing now.

Woods has had his problems with injuries and scandals, but when he plays like that everything goes out the window and he’s lauded and loved all over the world. I guess that’s what happens when you’re a transcendent talent. When his golf is in full flight, it’s a joy and he’s unbelievably good for the game.

Tiger getting swarmed by fans at the 2018 Tour Championship (Getty Images)

He is the only one in golf who can evoke such amazing reactions. I was at 2018's Tour Championship and that was something else, but the scenes when he holed out on 18, with the crowd chanting and him hugging his family, were tear-jerkers for even the most cynical fans.

He can write scripts that no one else can.

If he’s not the greatest sportsman ever, I don’t know who is.

If he gets to 19 Majors, it’ll be the greatest sporting achievement by a long way. In terms of sporting comebacks, I still think Ben Hogan returning from a serious car crash to win the 1950 US Open edges him, though.

Of course, Tiger still wants to win regular PGA Tour events, but now he’s got his 15th Major, I think we’ll see him play much more of a limited schedule and really build a plan to peak for the Majors. I think he’s swinging as well as he has done since that sublime spell under Butch Harmon’s tutelage at the start of the century.

With the back fusion surgery he had, I think he has a three- or four-year window to achieve what he wants to achieve. In Major terms, that’s 16 or 20 if he carries on going for another five years. Now when the Majors roll round, the excitement will be back to what it was when Tiger was Tiger.

Another sub-plot to all this is there will be less – still lots, but less – attention on the likes of Rory McIlroy heading into Majors, which could help him and other players. But most of these young guys said at one point or another that they wanted to beat Tiger at his best. Be careful what you wish for fellas!

I wonder what Jack Nicklaus is thinking about all of this. Does Jack want him to break the record? It now suddenly looks doable. One a year for the next two years, then another Masters when he’s in his late 40s? He can play The Masters, the USPGA and The Open for as long as he wants to. It feels like it’s possible all of a sudden.

With all that said, in five years, do I think he’ll have beaten Jack’s record? Tough call, but I’d probably say no. I hope I’m wrong. Either way, it’s going to be fun watching everything play out.

Don't forget to follow Golf Monthly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The leading website from the world’s oldest golf magazine, we’re the go-to destination for amateur and keen golfers alike who are keen to up their golfing game. As well as expert course reviews, news and tips to improve your handicap our golf-focused travel content will help you pair teeing off with your travels in some of the best destinations around the globe.