Everybody loves a sporting comeback, as proven by the scenes after Tiger Woods secured his 80th PGA title on Sunday 23 September.
Although it is difficult to measure the scale of Woods’ success, his dramatic fall and his comeback, we decided to compare it to the comebacks of other sportspersons, of contrasting natures.
Tiger Woods (Golf)
There was a time when Woods struggled to bend down to pick his ball up from a cup and was even fearful of sitting in a golf cart to watch others play because the bumps gave him so much pain. Woods’ injury problems, as well as personal issues, saw him plummet to 1,199th in the world.
Upon his return, Woods went very close to winning the 2018 Open, shooting his lowest score since 2008. But his comeback was complete on Sunday, 23 September when he won his 80th PGA Title. The crowd went wild and embraced the return of one of the all-time sporting greats.
Michael Jordan (Basketball)
Jordan took a hiatus from his stellar basketball career in 1993. Jordan was deeply affected by the death of his father and confessed that he had lost his passion for basketball. He decided to pursue a career in baseball as his late father had always wanted for him.
Eighteen months later, he returned to the NBA by simply announcing via a simple fax: “I’m back.” How times have changed.
The Chicago Bulls legend left the game on top with three straight NBA titles and NBA Finals MVPs, three MVP awards, six All-Defensive team awards, seven first-team All-NBA selections and a record-tying seven straight scoring titles.
Upon his return, Jordan led the Bulls to three additional championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998, as well as a then-record 72 regular-season wins in the 1995–96 NBA season.
Brian O’Driscoll (Rugby)
O’Driscoll was known for his ability to play through injury and pain. However, the spear tackle during the Lions’ tour of New Zealand threatened not only his career, but his life.
According to Eddie O’Sullivan, O’Driscoll was fearful that he was going to break his neck and die.
O’Driscoll underwent surgery on his return to Ireland and it put him out for seven months, but he returned to lead Ireland in the 2006 Six Nations, and the team won the Triple Crown, only losing the Championship to France on points difference. O’Driscoll was also named player of the championship.
The seriousness of the New Zealand incident led to a change in the rules of rugby regarding spear tackles or ‘tip’ tackles being tightened up.
Aaron Ramsey (Football)
When he was just 19 years old, Ramsey’s leg was broken by a challenge from Stoke City defender Ryan Shawcross. He returned to action nine months later, and after two loan spells, he was able to break into the Arsenal first team in the 2011/12 season.
Ramsey was named Arsenal player of the year in the 13/14 season and could have continued Arsenal’s push for the Premier League title if it wasn’t for more injury trouble. When Ramsey suffered a thigh strain against West Ham on 26 December, Arsenal were joint top of the league, but lost ground in the title race in his absence.
Later that season, Ramsey scored the winner in the FA Cup Final and was named Arsenal player of the season. Ramsey scored another FA Cup Final winner against Chelsea in 2017 and was again voted Arsenal player of the season in 2017/18.
Dean Richards (Rugby)
Richards resigned from Harlequins in August 2009 after an incident which became known as Bloodgate. He had orchestrated and had “central control” over a fake blood injury to Harlequins player Tom Williams to bring a more experienced replacement kicker onto the field during a Heineken Cup match against Leinster.
With the game poised at 6-5 late in the second half, a successful penalty kick would have resulted in a place in the semifinals for Harlequins. Richards was found to have been involved in four similar incidents and was banned from coaching for three seasons.
In spring 2012 Richards was named Director of Rugby at Newcastle Falcons when his ban ended in August and, as he had with Harlequins, led Newcastle to promotion back to the Premiership at the first attempt.
Richards has brought a great deal of stability to Newcastle, traditionally a club who are constantly promoted then relegated. The formerly disgraced coach guided Newcastle to a fourth-place finish in the 2017/18 season, and there have been calls for him to appointed England head coach.
Monica Seles (Tennis)
Seles was stabbed in the back by a diehard fan of Steffi Graf during a tournament in Germany. The era of the Steffi Graf- Monica Seles rivalry had begun and Seles was starting to dominate. In 1993, she was the top tennis player in the world, following 22 straight singles titles and eight grand slam tournaments.
Luckily, the incision was only an inch and a half deep and the blade just missed her spinal cord. Seles missed two full seasons due to the psychological damage caused, but returned in 1995, winning her first event — the Canadian Open — before reaching the final of the US Open the following month.
She lost to Graf, and had to wait until the next grand slam before she won. Sadly, the 1996 Australian Open was to be her only major singles victory although she was runner-up in two more.
She never achieved her former heights and certainly never dominated as she had been expected to do before the attack. That domination was left to Steffi Graf, who won 22 majors in her career.
Eric Cantona (Football)
After Cantona’s infamous ‘kung-fu’ style kick and assault on an opposition fan who had hurled abuse at him in January 1995, some called for him to be banned from English football for life.
Instead, Cantona was banned for eight months, fined £10,000 by the FA and sentenced to 120 hours of community service. The French striker was stripped of his nation’s captaincy and never played for the national team again.
Cantona was tempted to leave Manchester United, however, manager Sir Alex Ferguson persuaded him to stay. He made his comeback the next season, and inspired United to a league and cup double, scoring the only goal of the game in the FA Cup Final against Liverpool.
Cantona served as the captain in the absence of Steve Bruce in the final and took over as club captain when Bruce left that summer. United would go on to win the league the next season as well, meaning the only title the Red Devils failed to win in five years was the season of Cantona’s suspension.
Cantona retired from football at the ripe age of thirty, however, his legacy lives on at Old Trafford.
Clint Malarchuk (Hockey)
Buffalo Sabres goalie Malarchuk suffered a horrific injury in the NHL when his jugular vein was partially severed in 1989. A goalmouth scramble resulted in an opposition’ skate cutting Malarchuk’s throat.
He survived thanks to the quick actions of team trainer Jim Pizzutelli, who rushed across and was able to stop the bleeding. Pizzutelli had served in Vietnam and used his experience as an army medic to save the goalie’s live by applying heavy pressure to his throat.
In the hospital, doctors recommended that Malarchuk take the rest of the season off but he was back on the ice just four days later.
Rio Ferdinand (Football)
In September 2003, Ferdinand failed to attend a drug test scheduled to take place at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground. The FA imposed an eight-month ban from January 2004 at club and international level and a £50,000 fine, meaning he would miss the rest of the season and some of the next along with all of Euro 2004.
Upon his return, he established himself in the United first team and received plaudits for his performances, featuring in the PFA Team of the Year four times in five years.
By the time Ferdinand left Manchester United in 2014, he had won six Premier League titles, two League Cups, a Club World Cup and he captained United in their 2008 Champions League victory over Chelsea.
Noel McGrath (Hurling)
In April 2015, the Tipperary hurler was diagnosed with testicular cancer. McGrath lost all his fitness and was unable to move for 10 days after a very difficult bout of chemotherapy.
However, McGrath made an extraordinary recovery and beat cancer in time to return to play in his side’s All-Ireland semi-final against Galway that August. The then-25-year-old entered Croke Park to a rousing reception and scored a point within minutes of coming on as a substitute, that looked to be the winner for the Premier County.
Although the fairytale ending was not to be as Galway progressed to the final, McGrath’s recovery is a heart-warming story.