Tiger Woods, great sporting comebacks
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Great sporting comebacks: 5 who came through adversity

| 22.12.2021

5 great sporting comebacks

Tiger Woods made another astonishing comeback at the weekend when he competed in a father and son challenge 10 months after suffering career-threatening injuries in a car crash outside Los Angeles.

The 15-time major winner underwent surgery to repair a fractured tibia and fibula in his right leg and at least three months after the accident was still unable to walk without the aid of crutches.

But the American fought back from adversity for the second time in his life to finish second alongside his youngest child at the PNC Championship in Orlando.

We’ve picked out some of the great sporting comebacks from the last 50 years, starting with Woods.

Tiger Woods

In 2019, Woods stunned the world by winning the US Masters 11 years after his last major win despite having undergone four back operations from 2014.

In April 2017, Woods underwent fusion surgery on his spine having not played in a major tournament in more than a year and a half, but a month later was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, although he later revealed that it “was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications”.

Woods had won the US Open for a third time in 2008 with torn knee ligaments and a double stress fracture in his leg, but that success was trumped by his thrilling triumph at Augusta National which caught the world’s imagination.

Alex Zanardi

Zanardi’s battle against adversity is one of the most remarkable and comfortably qualifies as one of the great sporting comebacks.

The Italian spent four years in Formula One during the 1990s, but an horrific crash during the 2001 American Memorial CART race in Germany resulted in both of his legs being amputated.

Incredibly, Zanardi returned to racing less than two years after the accident, competing in the European Touring Car Championship and earning four wins between 2005-9 in the World Touring Car Championship.

Zanardi later went on to win a combined four gold and two silver medals in handcycling at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games, but in 2020 was involved in a serious road accident while competing in a race in Italy, undergoing five brain surgeries before he was finally released from hospital in December 2021 – 18 months later.

Monica Seles

Seles became the youngest player to win the French Open in 1990 when at the age of 16 she beat world number one Steffi Graf.

Monica Seles, great sporting comebacks

However, in April 1993 the 19-year-old Yugoslavian, who had won three of the four grand slams in 1992, was stabbed in the back by a Graf-obsessed man at the European Open in Hamburg, narrowly missing her spinal cord, and did not compete again for more than two years.

Seles became a US citizen in 1994 during her time away from tennis and having reached the US Open final a year later she went on to win the Australian Open in 1996 to add to the eight grand slam titles she had won before the stabbing.

Niki Lauda

Lauda was Formula One’s reigning world champion at the start of the 1976 season and led the standings heading to the German Grand Prix at the very long and dangerous Nurburgring where he suffered a near-fatal crash.

On the second lap, Lauda’s Ferrari hit an earth bank, bounced back onto the track and burst into flames.

The Austrian was pulled from the wreck by some of the drivers, but suffered severe burns and was taken by helicopter to hospital where he fought for his life over the next few days.

Niki Lauda, great sporting comebacks

Lauda survived and, in one of the great sporting comebacks, returned 43 days later at the Italian Grand Prix where he finished fourth but his retirement in Japan in the title-deciding finale meant James Hunt’s third place was good enough to win the championship.

However, Lauda was crowned champion in the following year and in 1984 made it three with McLaren in his penultimate season in F1.

Muhammad Ali

World heavyweight champion Ali was 24 and at the peak of his powers in 1966 when his boxing licence application was rejected over his refusal to enlist in the US army and fight in the Vietnam war.

Ali was banned from boxing for three years, but suffered the first defeat of his career in trying to win back his title against Joe Frazier in 1971, a bout dubbed the ‘Fight of the Century’.

Muhammad Ali, great sporting comebacks

Despite that setback, Ali got another shot at the title in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in 1974 when his rope-a-dope plan worked to perfection against George Foreman who punched himself into exhaustion and was knocked out in the eighth round.

Ali went on to win the world heavyweight title for a third time in 1978, beating Leon Spinks with a unanimous decision.

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Warren Barner