Woods leaves us with another unexpected hope for redemption

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Although I’ve been to thousands of games, very few sporting events have created lasting memories for me.

But there are a treasured few, like:

• Covering the Saints’ first game back in New Orleans in 2006 following Hurricane Katrina.

• Watching Tonya Butler kick 64 of 65 extra points for the Riverdale (Ga.) High Raiders in 1998, then seeing her become the first woman to kick a field goal in a college football game in 2003 for West Alabama.

• Seeing the reaction on pit road after Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 in 1998.

• Watching my golf buddy Greg Sacks win the 1985 Firecracker 400 at the Daytona International Speedway.

• Covering Bo Clark’s 70-point basketball game for UCF in 1977 against Florida Memorial.

• Watching Jack Nicklaus, who at 46, won his final green jacket at my first Masters in 1986.

On Sunday, I added a new memory, and I didn’t have to leave my living room chair.

A lot of our bodies show the wrinkles, baggage and scars that comes with age and youthful indiscretions, but few of us ever get the opportunity for redemption. Tiger Woods got that rare opportunity last weekend at the Masters, and he took all of us on the incredible journey.

Woods’ body is being held together by purpose and enough surgeon’s thread to weave the white surrender flag. There were many reasons for him to quit: four knee surgeries, four more on his back. And, of course, his highly-public forms of medical and personal sabotage.

His hair is thinning; his legs, back and reputation have been battered and bruised. As fans, we cheered for each of his failed comebacks and prayed for another victory, believing it really wasn’t possible to recover again, much less flourish.

But few, if any, are Tiger Woods.

And we will always cheer him for that.

The Augusta National Golf Club is golf’s greatest stage. Every blade of grass is manicured, not mowed. Dogwoods and azaleas are on their own flowering schedule, thanks to tons of ice that are packed around the trees to trick Mother Nature into blossoming on cue. Concession stand food is wrapped in green wax paper to make it more difficult to see trash on the ground (although the patrons respect the hallowed grounds so much, it’s not likely anyone would dare to litter.)

Speaking of concessions, the most-expensive food items are barbecue, chicken wraps and sandwiches – all for just $3 each. The club’s most-ordered sandwiches are pimento cheese and egg salad for only $1.50 each.

It’s impossible to believe a pimento cheese sandwich, bag of chips and a can of domestic beer costs just $6.50, especially when the cheapest beer at Jacksonville Jaguars games is $10.

Practice round tickets at Augusta are $75 a day, with tournament prices jumping to $115. Practice round tickets are sold through a lottery. Tournament tickets are so difficult to find, scalpers generally can get $1,000 for a badge – especially if Tiger is on the prowl.

As incredibly perfect as it appears on television, it’s indescribably better in person.

CBS’s cameras can’t capture the severity of the rolling hills. Amen Corner really is a canyon, buried deep in the cellar on one of the corners of the golf course. The walk up the 18th is intimidating – both by the immense climb and the intense moment.

It was Woods who once again reminded us just how meaningful this special weekend in April, with all its colorful and historic splendor, makes us feel every year.

With eight players finishing within two shots of the victory, we all had a front row seat to watch a man who’s taken us here before, only to retreat with so much personal and professional adversity, and to reappear for one of the greatest curtain calls of all time.

Thank you for the memory, Tiger. And keep ‘em coming.

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