IN his 43 years on this planet, Eldrick Tont Woods has made sporting history on several occasions. Last Sunday, he upended the laws of natural history by showing the world that when a Tiger is truly, blissfully, happy it does not roar, it screams.

Woods winning the 2019 Masters at Augusta was a picture of sheer joy. In true showman style he started off with a near miss, adding to the already heart-pounding drama. But then it happened, the ball fell into the hole, the penny dropped, and just like that his time on the wrong side of fame was over. He took it easy at first, just one arm pumping the air, but who was he kidding? There was too much there to contain. Too much relief, hurt, gratitude, happiness. He threw his arms wide, looked up to the heavens, and screamed.

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He howled with delight again when his son ran into his arms, Woods holding him the way his dad held Tiger 22 years before when he won his first Masters. Back when everything was ahead of him, when he could do no wrong. What scenes. From presidents past and present to fellow champions including Serena Williams, the congratulations have poured in. Woods’ achievement at Augusta has been hailed as the greatest comeback in sporting history, quite a claim in a field that contains Ali and Lauda to name but two. It is more than that, though. The joy millions have taken in his return to form shows the continuing power of the comeback as an idea. We want to believe in it. We need to believe in it.

From the moment he appeared on television at the age of two, winning a putting contest with Bob Hope, Woods has lived in the glare of the cameras. His talent led to fame and more money in sponsorship deals than any athlete had earned before. Between 1997 and 2008 he won 14 majors and was on course to beat Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18.

Then his car hit a fire hydrant and his life was exposed as a wreck. He apologised to his wife – on camera, naturally – for a series of affairs and casual encounters. His wife gave up on him, understandably, and his body followed. From being an athlete in his prime, Woods was felled by pain in his knees and his back. Operations followed, as did an addiction to pain pills, culminating in his arrest in 2017 for driving under the influence. The police mugshot, never among the most flattering of images, was particularly cruel, showing Woods as a bloated, weary mess, one, moreover, who still seemed to reek of arrogance. It looked like the photo equivalent of some blowhard asking “Do you know who I am?” and it earned Woods even more enemies than he had already accrued.

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Despite the adulation which surrounds him after his win in Augusta, Woods still has enemies and critics, some of whom took to social media after he won the Masters to ask if this great guy hugging his family was the same serial adulterer and spoiled brat of a few years ago. It has also been pointed out how lucrative Woods’ comeback will be for himself and his sponsors. Great for the game of golf, too. It might be the whitest sport on the planet, but if it has a place for Tiger then all is forgiven, right?

Looking at the hostility Woods ignites in some quarters it is hard not to think he is being unfairly held to higher standards than others, and that this is due not in large part to his riches or talents but to his colour. One only had to glance at the crowd of spectators cheering him on his way on Sunday to see what what a rarity Woods, an American of black, Native American, Asian and Caucasian heritage, is at the upper levels of golf. In a country that remains as divided on race as America it was something of a miracle he ever got as far as he did. When he fell from grace, as many others had done before him, the backlash was particularly brutal, even for the modern media age. It was as if he had to be punished, not just for what he had done, but for being insufficiently grateful for the status and riches he had been accorded.

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It might be thought that none of this matters any more now that Woods has joined that most elite of clubs, the comeback kids. For some, however, there is no such institution. A person might be seen to recover from the most dreadful setbacks and failures, but they are never fully allowed to forget them. Will Bill Clinton’s name, for example, ever be mentioned in the history books without Monica Lewinsky’s being far behind? As for Ms Lewinsky, she is proof of how membership to the club is only granted to those, mostly men, who meet certain criteria. Women by and large don’t have comebacks. They survive. They endure.

Those who do not believe in second acts usually quote F Scott Fitzgerald to bolster their case. Erroneously, as it turns out. While the line about there being no second acts in American lives is usually attributed to his unfinished novel of 1941, The Last Tycoon, it in fact originated in an earlier essay, My Lost City, and it reads: “I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives, but there was certainly to be a second act to New York’s boom days.” If even the writer most associated, however mistakenly, with naysaying second acts was a believer, who are we to doubt?

As for those who question whether Woods should be treated as a hero again just for winning a golf tournament, what is the weather like up there on the moral high ground? It is not just sport that needs great comeback tales. What a bleak, devoid of hope, life it would be to think that things and people and luck cannot change, that there were no second chances for anyone. Sport shows us what a comeback looks like in a spectacular sense, but every day millions quietly stage their own fightbacks big and small. People do not come back from grief, illness and misfortune because of multi-billion dollar sponsorship deals or the acclaim of millions. Putting one foot in front of another again is the purest expression of our will to live, if not for ourselves then for others.

That we take such pleasure in seeing people bounce back is one of humanity’s finer instincts, something to be celebrated, an act to shout, or scream, about. Go Tiger.