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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

I’m a softie. I’ll admit it.

A tear welled in my eye, a lump formed in my throat Sunday afternoon was Tiger Woods tapped in the bogey putt that made him the 2019 Masters champion.

The putt secured Woods’ first major championship in 11 years. The victory capped a great redemption story. Watching Woods overcome his personal and physical issues to earn his fifth Green Jacket … well, it’s why many of us find athletic competition worthwhile.

The reaction on social media was both immediate, and if you can believe it, totally out of context.

Depending on whether a Tweet’s author was a Tiger fan or someone who dislikes golf, Wood’s victory was either the greatest sporting moment of all time, or insignificant.

Neither is the case.

Woods’ victory was momentous. But, it wouldn’t register in my Top 10 all-time sports moments. A better case could be made for Tiger’s first Masters title in 1997.

Personally, I’ve been ambivalent about Tiger most of his career.

I loved the young Tiger of the mid-90s. The Greatest of All Time arguments get tiresome. Tiger definitely belongs in that mix, but I think a better case can be made that Woods is the most impactful golfer of all time.

Golf was even more Caucasian in the mid-1990s than it is now. In the early days of his career Tiger won championships at venues that wouldn’t have allowed him on the course just a few years earlier. While the PGA is still predominately white, Tiger’s presence altered attitudes around the game.

Tiger changed the look of the game in other ways.

The stereotype of a beer-bellied, cigarette huffing golfer is ancient history thanks to Tiger. Today’s players are cut, more likely to be found in the gym after a round than at the 19th hole. Woods brought a rare combination of athleticism, strength, distance and touch to the game. Courses were re-designed in an attempt to Tiger-proof them.

But, in my opinion, his best quality on the course was his steely determination, his unflappable focus. During the height of Tiger’s dominance, it just felt different watching a tournament when Woods was on the leaderboard.

Yet, like many fans, I’ve had an ambivalent attitude toward Woods, as fans tend to do with dominant players.

I was all about the young Tiger, shaking up the stodgy golf world a couple decades ago. For a couple years, it was fun to watch Tiger, the kid, bringing courses and tour veterans to their knees. It was fun to root for him.

But, then, his dominance was so profound.

It got to the point that I’d root for Tiger to be in the hunt, but hoped that someone, anyone, would edge him for a championship.

Of course, then came the well-documented fall from grace. Tiger experienced very public family issues, a DUI arrest and physical maladies with his knee and back. There were a couple ill-fated comeback attempts that left most of us believing that the Tiger-era was truly over.

Then, Sunday, Tiger won again. It wasn’t exactly classic Tiger. He wasn’t perfect down the stretch, although his approach shot on 15 and his tee shot on 16 were classic moments, but Woods failed to break with the tournament on the line.

Yup, a tear rolled down my cheek as that Nike golf ball disappeared into the hole at Augusta’s 18th hole.

As for the future? From one old guy to another, I hope Tiger tears it up for several more years.

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LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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