Tiger Woods’ Sporting Comeback and Other Remarkable Returns
There are few things more heartwarming than a good old sporting comeback. Who can’t get enough of the fabled star forced into retirement through injury or public outrage only for fate to offer them another bite at the sporting cherry? We’ve seen plenty of these tales of varying magnitude over the years but one happening currently is hard not to catch the eye. We’re talking about that of golfing god Tiger Woods.
From the time he won his first major aged 21 in the shape of 1997’s Master up until the late 2000s, Tiger had the golfing world at his feet. Hugely dominant, he had talent like no other and could storm up leaderboards to claim titles leaving all others in his wake, but around this time the wheels came off…big time. Marital problems caused by a number of indiscretions with other women saw Wood’s halo slip, he was dragged through the gutters by the press, hemorrhaging sponsors and becoming blighted by injuries, with his back becoming problematic and requiring multiple surgeries. After his most recent spinal fusion surgery there was doubts he’d ever be able to pick up a club again.
By May 2016, he was out of the world top 500 for the first time ever in his professional career. Then in 2017, when it seemed he’d already hit rock bottom he was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence, with dashcam footage going viral across the internet of a swaying, worse for wear looking Tiger. But just when you thought that may be the last we’d ever hear of the former serial winner, like a phoenix emerging from the ashes, Tiger started to show glimpses of a return. He started making cuts, then getting himself in the realms of contention, he was in the frame at The Open played at Lytham last month and then earlier this month he underlined he was truly back at the US PGA Championships, shooting a final-day 64, finishing second behind winner Brooks Koepka. Added to that are the rumours he’ll make the Ryder Cup team for September’s festivities making a sum total of one of the most remarkable sporting comeback stories ever.
Of course Tiger isn’t the only comeback king in current times. If twinkle-toed playmaker Santi Cazorla had not had been blighted by injury during his tenure at Arsenal, the clubs fortunes and indeed their then manager’s fate may have been very different. He’d suffered extended time out with a knee injury and an Achilles problem, but these were all drops in the ocean compared to the ankle injury that looked set to end his career.
Arsène Wenger described the injury as “the worst I’ve ever seen” and after two years out and 10 operations it looked like his boots would be hung up for good. But having left Arsenal in May and then being signed for Villarreal, and shown to the fans what must be the most bizarre player unveiling of all time the Spaniard is indeed back plying his trade on the pitch in what is a miraculous sporting comeback.
Here are some of our favourite returns to glory from over the years starting with a heavyweight name…
After retiring from the fight game at the tender age of 28 in 1977, loveable heavyweight boxer and future grill flogger George Foreman unlike other boxing “retirements” spent a full decade out of the ring before returning. He said his motivation for lacing up the gloves again was to fund a youth centre and with him having 31 more fights after his 1987 comeback that must have been some place for the kids to hang out. He’d already taken the heavyweight crown from Joe Frazier in his youth, but his greatest achievement must be his KO of Michael Moorer in 1994, where at the age of 45 he captured the IBF & WBA titles to become the oldest world heavyweight champ in history. And for added cool points he did it wearing the same pair of shorts he donned when he squared off against Muhammad Ali in 1974s Rumble in the Jungle.
In 1993 when Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, retired from the sport to take up minor league baseball after leading the Chicago Bulls to their third straight NBA title, many were dubious that his final game had been played on the court. Indeed after limited success slugging at pitches, he returned to his spiritual home at the Bulls to continue where he left off. He did this in style leading the team to another three straight titles between 1996 and 1998, then in January 1999 he retired again… sort of. Not one to be satisfied with one career comeback, after becoming a part owner in league strugglers the Washington Wizards, MJ dusted of his Air Jordan’s in 2001 for two more years, till actually retiring (for good this time) in 2003. A great example of why you can never write off true sporting legends.
In 2005 American athlete Justin Gatlin had the sprint world at his feet, holding two golds from the World Championships in Helsinki and a gold from the 100m in the Athens Olympics the year previously he was at the pinnacle of sporting achievement. But in 2006 his world came crashing in around him when he received a four-year ban after testing positive for a banned substance at the Kansas Relays. He became a pariah of the sport during those years and at one point was on the brink of taking his own life, but he rallied to make his (poorly received) comeback in 2010 and despite being portrayed as a villain he battled his way back into the USA Olympic team by winning at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012. At those Rio Olympics he took third in a PB of 9.79 behind Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt, Gatlin was back on the world stage. He improved to a silver at the next games and then at the age of 35 in London last year he took gold at the Worlds in London beating teammate Christian Coleman and the mighty Bolt, in what was his last race. Redemption complete, sort of. Many still see him as a target for hate but there’s no doubt of the hard work Gatlin has put in to put his past behind him.
So we know Lance Armstrong is a disgraced figure in the world of sport, but you can’t deny his sporting comeback is one of the greatest of them all. Diagnosed in 1996 he battled back from an aggressive form of testicular cancer undergoing chemo and multiple surgeries to go on to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles after returning to the saddle in 1998. Of course, as is well documented he was stripped of all these titles along with his bronze medal at the Olympics after doping allegations and admitting using performance-enhancing drugs, but in a sport riddled with such problems, his story and comeback was quite remarkable.
When Serena Williams became pregnant early in 2017 many thought we’d seen the last of this great of the women’s game. Having won 23 career Grand Slam titles she had little more to accomplish, yet return she did, after almost losing her life. After a smooth pregnancy period, her baby’s delivery led to complications that nearly killed her. She had a pulmonary embolism and hematoma that required multiple surgeries. After pulling through she was left in bed for six weeks barely unable to move. But like the champion she is she gradually built herself and remarkably returned to action in March 2018, appropriately, on International Women’s Day. And in July she made yet another Wimbledon final losing out to Germany’s Angelique Kerber. With her incredible determination, we’re certainly not betting against title number 24 coming very soon.
After a horrific fiery crash in the 1976 German Grand Prix, the Austrian F1 legend Niki Lauder was given the last rites in his hospital bed. The crash left him with disfiguring facial burns and people wondering whether he’d recover let alone compete again. Testament to the kind of man Lauda is, just forty-two days later at the Italian Grand Prix he showed incredible bravery to put that traumatic incident behind him and step behind the wheel of his iconic Ferrari to continue his infamous rivalry with British driver James Hunt. Hunt ended up pipping him to the title that season, but the title for bravest comeback just by stepping foot in an F1 car again went to Lauda.
Former Barcelona full-back Eric Abidal made possibly the most unlikely sporting comeback. It was back in March 2011 when Abidal was diagnosed with cancer after a tumour was found in his liver. Undergoing surgery almost immediately, the prognosis was a positive one and remarkably Abidal returned to the Barcelona first team on the 28th May that same year – a mere two months later – as the Spanish giants won the Champions League Final against Man Utd at Wembley, Abidal completed the full ninety minutes. Unfortunately that was not the end of the story and the following year due to issues resulting from the first surgical procedure, it was decided Abidal would need a liver transplant. In an unrelenting show of determination at the age of 33, he once again made a successful return to first-team action. An incredible story, and a great example of belief and hard work, to be able to play at the highest level of your sport having endured such a torrid experience.
What’s your favourite sporting comeback? Let us know in the comments below.