Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Seven of the unlikeliest sports comebacks after Tiger Woods wins first major title in 11 years

Tiger Woods became the latest sports star to enjoy a comeback victory that was never expected.

Tiger Woods wore the famous green jacket against all the odds for the first time in 11 years on Sunday.

The win came just two years since he told Jack Nicklaus "I'm done" during the Champions Dinner at Augusta National, after which he flew to London to see the consultant who recommended what proved to be career-saving spinal fusion surgery.

The Telegraph hailed Sunday's triumph as the "greatest comeback since Muhammad Ali", as he clinched his 15th golf major.

It's also Woods's first success since his infamous mid-career meltdown, which began when problems in his personal life surfaced in 2009.

Here's a selection of the other sporting stars who staged an unlikely return to the top:

  • Greg LeMond
Greg LeMond, centre, won the 76th Tour de France after a classic race against Laurent Fignon (left) Credit: AP

US cyclist and reigning Tour de France champion Greg LeMond was primed to defend his title when a bizarre accident left his life in the balance.

He was accidentally shot by his uncle during a Turkey hunt in 1987 and it’s believed he lost 65% of his body's blood after he was hit by more than 60 pellets.

LeMond was forced to sit out the next two Tour de France races but made a remarkable comeback in 1989, edging past France’s Laurent Fignon to win the title, which he successfully defended a year later.

  • Nancy Kerrigan
American Nancy Kerrigan (right) won a silver medal despite the attack. Credit: AP

Ice skater Nancy Kerrigan's on-ice battle with fellow American Tonya Harding turned ugly in 1994 when she was attacked after a practice session.

Shane Stant smashed Kerrigan's right knee with a metal baton after a plot hatched by Harding's ex-husband and associates.

The attack, just weeks ahead of the Winter Olympics in Norway, forced gold medal favourite Kerrigan to pull out of the US Championships, which Harding went on to win.

Kerrigan recovered to perform at the Winter Olympics, claiming silver while Harding, who flunked in Lillehammer, later admitted to knowing about the plot to injure her rival.

  • Monica Seles
Monica Seles grimaces as she is aided after being stabbed in the back in Hamburg, Germany. Credit: AP

Monica Seles had dominated women's tennis in the early 1990s, winning nine Grand Slams in just three years.

Her reign was dramatically halted when she was attacked by a deranged fan of her leading rival Steffi Graf in April 1993.

The Yugoslavia-born Seles was stabbed in the back while she was on the court during a minor tournament in Hamburg, Germany.

She wouldn’t play for another two years, despite being tipped to resume her success in the mid-1990s.

Though she was never able to dominate the sport again, she did enjoy a tenth and final Grand Slam success as she beat Anke Huber at the Australian Open in 1996.

  • Petra Kvitova
Petra Kvitova (right) narrowly lost to Japan's Naomi Osaka. Credit: AP

More than two decades on from Seles' horror attack, Czech tennis ace Petra Kvitova was attacked in her own home by a knifeman.

Kvitova suffered damage to tendons in her left hand and all five fingers after her ordeal in 2016.

She was expected to be out for six months but came back strongly to compete in the French Open around a month ahead of schedule.

And she didn’t stop there – getting as far as the final of Australian Open final this year, narrowly missing out to Naomi Osaka despite a thrilling comeback in the second set.

  • Niki Lauda
Austrian Niki Lauda after his near fatal crash at the German Grand Prix. Credit: AP

Formula One star Niki Lauda was another who defied all expectations following a shocking injury.

The Austrian’s car burst into flames when he crashed at the German Grand Prix in 1976, leaving the reigning F1 champion trapped in the wreckage.

He was pulled out alive but with severe burns for which he carries the scars to this day.

Incredibly, Lauda was back on the track in just 43 days at the Italian Grand Prix and would go on to win two more driving championships before retiring.

  • Muhammad Ali
Ali knocked out George Foreman at the 'Rumble in the Jungle'. Credit: AP

Now to the comeback which provided the benchmark for many of the golf writers over the weekend.

Muhammad Ali’s stance on the Vietnam War and his defiance against the draft landed him in hot water with US authorities and made him a hate figure for some sections of the American public.

In 1967 the then heavyweight champion of the world was stripped of his licence to box in every state, meaning that, between the prime ages of 25 and 29, Ali did not enter the ring.

Growing public opposition to the war and sympathy to Ali’s stance paved the way for arguably the most memorable sporting comeback.

Ali returned in a bruisingly heroic defeat to Joe Frazier in 1971, before famously knocking out overwhelming favourite George Foreman in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire in 1974 and then Frazier in the rematch 'Thrilla in Manila' a year later.

  • Ben Hogan
Ben Hogan in hospital with brother Royal by his side. Credit: AP

Woods isn't even the most unlikely Masters champion.

That honour goes to Ben Hogan, who not only survived a crippling head-on car collision with a bus in February 1949, but threw himself across his wife’s legs to protect her.

His injuries left him seriously hurt in hospital with several fractured bones and near-fatal blood clots.

Yet less than a year and a half later, Hogan won his most memorable title at the US Open, declaring "because it proved I could still win".

A year after that, in 1951, he was sporting the green jacket as victor at the Masters - a title he won again in 1953.