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It’s been 11 long years that was almost as painful for Tiger Woods’ faithful followers as it was for Tiger himself, but if last weekend was any indication of things to come, then Tiger is back.

Very few folks either packed along the fairways at Augusta National, glued to their television sets at home or even on the course playing against him, did not feel good about Tiger Woods’ stunning comeback in the 2019 Masters Golf Tournament.

As you could probably gather from my columns in the last quarter century, I’ve been a Tiger Woods fan since he was consistently winning events either as a junior golfer or at Stanford University, where he played collegiately.

Back in the late 1990’s there was great concern among his fans if he didn’t win a tournament or got sent home early by not making the cut. There were events when Tiger didn’t have his “A game” but still was able to compete and win with his “B” or even “C” game because he was that good.

But Tiger’s love for females and a couple of serious injuries to his back, legs and knees, put a long hold on his golf career.

He reportedly refused to follow his doctor’s orders and played and won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in LaJolla, Calif. with a torn ACL and broken leg, but needed a 19-hole playoff on that following Monday to subdue Rocco Mediate in a playoff.

It was his last major championship until last weekend. His nemesis this time was a talented Italian named Francesco Molanari, who went into the final round leading by two strokes.

Molanari played rather conservatively on the front nine but realized Tiger was for real and wasn’t going away. I don’t know whether Molanari panicked but he plunked his tee shot into the drink on the Par 3 No. 12, just like four of the six golfers did in the last two groups, including Tony Finau, the third member in Tiger’s group.

This produced a logjam at the top of the leader board in which a different player—Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantley, Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka and Jason Day– was in the lead each hole.

Just to show that No. 12 was no fluke, Molanari, who was two shots down, came up short on a chip shot and dunked another shot and no longer was in the hunt for that coveted Green Jacket.

Tiger barely missed getting a hole-in-one on the Par 3, No. 16 hole and tapped in his birdie to take command of the lead by going 14-under par and never losing it again.

He played No. 18 super-safe and took a bogey to win the Masters by a single stroke over Johnson, Koepka and Schauffele.

Tiger was much more emotional after his win than he ever was in days gone by. “There were so many different scenarios that could have transpired on that back nine,” Woods told the Associated Press. “There were so many guys that had a chance to win.

“You couldn’t have had more drama than we all had out there, and now you know why I’m balding,” Tiger quipped.

Most of the young golfers that finished 10-under or better were happy for Tiger’s comeback. After all, he was their role model when they were growing up and took an interest in playing golf as youngsters.

And the veteran golfers like Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia, Rory Sabbatini, Charles Howell III and even Phil Mickelson were happy for Tiger because they realized if it wasn’t for him, there would never be huge purses like there have been for the past decade or so.

And last but not least, even President Donald Trump, who has played golf with Tiger many times, tweeted Monday afternoon that he plans on awarding Tiger Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The symbolic Green Jacket is the fifth one for Tiger and his 15th victory of a major tournament. At 43 years old, he still trails Jack Nicklaus by three major wins and will be trying to catch him for the remainder of his brilliant career. Nicklaus, incidentally, was the last golfer to win a major tournament after the age of 40.

KWICKIES…The National Basketball Association’s playoffs are in full swing with the Houston Rockets coming off an impressive 122-90 victory over the Utah Jazz in Sunday’s opening game of the first round. The two teams are in action again tonight in Houston. The San Antonio Spurs also won Game 1 at Denver 101-96 and played last night in Game 2.

Congrats to the Lumberton Lady Raiders soccer team who won the Class 4A regional championship last weekend 1-0 on a penalty kick to punch their ticket to this week’s state tournament in Georgetown. The Lady Raiders (23-3-2) have the worst record of the four teams in the state tourney and will be the No. 4 seed. They meet top-seeded Stephenville today in the state semifinals.

The Lamar baseball team appears to be following in the footsteps of the football and basketball teams by going on a late-season surge to make the Southland Conference post-season playoffs. The Cards swept their first series last weekend against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and play a nonconference game today against the Texas Longhorns.

Forrest Gregg, Hall of Fame lineman for the Green Bay Packers for many seasons, died last weekend at age 85 from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. Forrest, who was nicknamed “Trees” by his teammates, was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1977.

JUST BETWEEN US…I’d like to believe that my editorial comments about the Houston Astros starting the season (2-5) just like they did in those 100-plus loss seasons did some good. Since then, the ‘Stroes have won nine straight going into Oakland for a series that began last night and their anemic batting averages the first week have exploded into .300 or better for several of the starters. The starting pitching has been very stingy giving up runs and hits and the bullpen has been outstanding, especially closer Roberto Osuna, who has saved seven games in as many opportunities.