<
>

Welcome back, Tiger: The best comebacks across sports

Tiger Woods just won his first tournament in five years, which got us thinking ... what other sports comebacks can compare? David Davies/PA Images/Getty Images

Five years after his last PGA Tour win, Tiger Woods has returned to the top.

Woods won the Tour Championship, the final event in the season's FedExCup playoffs, his first PGA Tour win since he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2013. It's been a long five years since that last win. In that time, there have been scandals and four back surgeries for the man who was once No. 1 and owned the sport.

Tiger's return has us taking a look at other athletes' notable comebacks from long layoffs due to injuries, personal reasons and retirements.


NFL

Joe Montana

First run: Montana established himself as one of the greatest QBs of all time in his career with the San Francisco 49ers, winning four Super Bowls and two MVPs.

What happened: Montana missed all of 1991 and most of 1992 with an elbow injury. After Steve Young took over his place as the 49ers' starter, Montana requested to be traded and was sent to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Second wind: Montana led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game in 1993.

Peyton Manning

First run: Manning won four MVPs and a Super Bowl in his career with the Indianapolis Colts, who drafted him in 1997.

What happened: Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, which effectively ended his career with Indy.

Second wind: He joined the Denver Broncos in 2012 and led Denver to a victory in Super Bowl 50. Manning also threw 55 touchdown passes in 2013, the most touchdown passes in a single season in NFL history -- and won MVP that year.

Ricky Williams

First run: Williams, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner at Texas, had numerous stints in the league after being drafted fifth overall in the 1999 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints. He was the NFL's rushing leader in yards in 2002 with the Miami Dolphins and made the Pro Bowl that year.

What happened: Williams retired for the first time in 2004 after multiple failed drug tests. He returned in 2005, but then was suspended in 2006. He returned to the NFL again, in 2007 with the Dolphins.

Second wind: Williams became a 1,000-yard RB for the Dolphins in 2009, at age 32.

Michael Vick

First run: Vick was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001 and immediately electrified them, making three Pro Bowls while on the team from 2001 to 2007.

What happened: In 2007, it all went downhill. Vick pleaded guilty for his involvement in a dogfighting ring and his public image took a huge hit. He spent 21 months in jail.

Second wind: Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. He made a Pro Bowl in 2010 and won the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award that season.

James Conner

First run: As a freshman at Pittsburgh in 2013, Conner led the Panthers in rushing, and he followed that with a sophomore season that saw him lead the ACC in rushing. His rushing yards ranked seventh in the FBS that year.

What happened: During the 2015 season opener, Conner tore his MCL. The crushing injury led to Conner being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma during his rehab. But the catch allowed him to fight the cancer -- and win.

Second wind: Conner returned to the field for Pitt in 2016, and entered the 2017 NFL draft, where the Pittsburgh Steelers picked him. He played 14 games in his rookie season as Le'Veon Bell's backup.

Honorable Mentions: Adrian Peterson, Kurt Warner


Soccer

Ronaldo Nazario

First run: Having been part of a World Cup-winning squad as a 17-year-old in 1994, Ronaldo established himself as arguably the greatest player. He averaged almost a goal per game for PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona over three seasons and won the Ballon d'Or in 1997, the same year he joined Inter for a world record fee of $27 million. During his first season in Italy, he scored 34 goals and won the UEFA Cup.

What happened: But after he scored four times in Brazil's run to the final, the decider versus France began a personal nightmare. Ronaldo played in the 3-0 defeat to the host nation amid rumors regarding his health and was left off the original team sheet. What followed in subsequent years was even worse and led to legitimate fears that the great striker's career might be over. In April 2000, six minutes into his first game following a five-month absence due to a ruptured knee tendon, Ronaldo suffered a relapse that would see him sidelined for 17 months. How bad was the injury? "His knee-cap actually exploded and it ended up in the middle of his thigh," his former physio Nilton Petrone said.

Second wind: In 2002, sporting a curious haircut that, he said, was designed to distract the media from asking about his dodgy knees, O Fenômeno scored eight goals in seven games, including two in the final versus Germany, to lead the Selecao to a record fifth world title.


MLB

Josh Hamilton

First run: Hamilton, a highly touted prospect, was the No. 1 pick in the 1999 MLB draft by Tampa Bay.

What happened: He didn't debut in the majors until 2007, with the Cincinnati Reds. What happened in between? Drug and alcohol abuse led him to rehab, and he was out of baseball for almost three years.

Second wind: As soon as he came back in '07, he started raking. He made five straight All-Star teams with the Texas Rangers from 2008 to 2012 and was the AL MVP in 2010.

Kerry Wood

First run: Wood, then a Chicago Cubs rookie, had 20 strikeouts in his fifth career start in 1998, against the Houston Astros and was named NL Rookie of the Year in 1998.

What happened: He missed the entire 1999 season to Tommy John surgery. After the 2004 season, Wood was primarily a reliever, with multiple DL trips and injuries throughout his career.

Second wind: He was an All-Star selection in 2008, his last season with the Cubs, and had 34 saves that season.

Rich Hill

First run: After making his MLB debut in 2005 with the Chicago Cubs, Hill bounced around six different teams, with varying results and injuries through 2014.

What happened: With mixed results and injuries keeping Hill from sticking in the majors, he signed with the Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks in 2015.

Second wind: He joined the Boston Red Sox late in the 2015 season, then went to the Oakland Athletics in 2016, where he was AL Pitcher of the Month in May. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers later in 2016 and was the NL Pitcher of the Month in July 2017.

Matt Bush

First run: Bush, a highly ranked shortstop prospect, was selected first overall by the San Diego Padres in the 2004 MLB draft. His big league debut, however, wouldn't happen for another 12 years.

What happened: Personal and legal problems, along with a prison stint, got in the way. His career started on a suspension after a bar fight. In 2009, he assaulted two lacrosse players. That same year, he also reportedly threw a baseball at a woman's head. In 2012, when he was drunk, he ran over an elderly man. He bounced around with organizations including the Padres, Toronto Blue Jays and Rays before the Rangers signed him to a minor league contract in 2015.

Second wind: Bush finally made his MLB debut in 2016, as a relief pitcher, and finished 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA.

Jonny Venters

First run: This comeback doesn't even include Venters being drafted in 2003 and not making his debut until 2010 with the Atlanta Braves (which included recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2005). But he finally did make it then, tying for eighth in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He followed that up with a solid 2011 season.

What happened: In 2013, he underwent his second Tommy John surgery. In 2014, he had to undergo his third Tommy John surgery. He spent 2015 recovering, then in 2016 had to go through ligament reattachment because of another torn UCL.

Second wind: Finally healthy, he debuted for his new team, the Rays, in April 2018. In July 2018, he was traded back to the Braves.

Honorable Mentions: Dave Dravecky, Tommy John, Julio Franco, Rick Ankiel, Buster Posey


NBA

Magic Johnson

First run: Magic was Magic. The No. 1 pick in the 1979 NBA draft, he won the NBA Finals and Finals MVP his rookie season. That title was the first of five with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also won three MVPs and two more Finals MVPs and was a perennial All-Star.

What happened: Johnson retired in 1991 after his announcement that he was HIV-positive, though he did play in the 1992 All-Star Game and was on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team.

Second wind: He returned to play for the Lakers in 1996, for one season (he coached L.A. for part of the 1993-1994 season), and finished his Hall of Fame career in Los Angeles.

Shaun Livingston

First run: Livingston was a top high school prospect and was picked at No. 4 by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2004 NBA draft. He suffered a devastating knee injury in 2007 that looked like a potential career-ender.

What happened: He was out for around a year-and-a-half, then played for numerous NBA teams, including a stint in the then-D-League (now G League).

Second wind: In 2014, Livingston joined the Golden State Warriors, and he has been a key part of their three NBA titles since then.

Paul George

First run: George was an All-Star in 2013 and 2014 and made the All-NBA third team those same seasons. He also made the NBA All-Defensive first team in 2014. He led the Indiana Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals.

What happened: George suffered a horrific knee injury during a scrimmage for the FIBA Basketball World Cup and missed almost the entire 2014-15 season.

Second wind: Paul returned to the Pacers in All-Star form for the 2015-16 season and made the All-NBA third team. In addition, he was on Team USA for the 2016 Olympics. He was also an All-Star in 2017 and 2018, and in 2018 made the All-NBA third team. He has proved to be one of the best two-way players in the NBA.

Honorable Mention: Bobby Hurley


NHL

Mario Lemieux

First run: Lemieux won back-to-back titles with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy both years. In 1993 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, causing him to miss two months of the season as he received treatment. When he returned, the Penguins won 17 straight games and won the scoring title.

What happened: Lemieux missed the majority of the 1993-94 season with back problems. He took a leave of absence during the 1994-95 season because of fatigue from radiation.

Second wind: He came back for the 1995-96 season and won the Art Ross Trophy as MVP, continuing to cement himself as a hockey Hall of Famer.

Honorable Mention: Jaromir Jagr


Boxing

George Foreman

First run: Foreman won the heavyweight championship when he knocked out Joe Frazier in 1973. He retired (for the first time) in 1977.

What happened: After he retired for the first time, he became an ordained Christian minister.

Second wind: Foreman came back in 1987 after a 10-year layoff. In 1994, 21 years after his first heavyweight championship, he regained a portion of it.

Honorable Mention: Muhammad Ali


Tennis

Jennifer Capriati

First run: In 1991, Capriati was a semifinalist at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She also won a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics.

What happened: She took a break from tennis for personal reasons and legal troubles (shoplifting and marijuana charges) and returned in 1996.

Second wind: She recaptured the No. 1 ranking in the world in 2001, winning the Australian Open and French Open that year. She won the Australian Open yet again in 2002.

Monica Seles

First run: Seles won eight Grand Slam titles before she turned 20, including the French Open when she was 16. At the end of 1991 and 1992, she was ranked No. 1.

What happened: In 1993, a fan of Steffi Graf stabbed Seles in the back with a knife, and Seles would be out of tennis until 1995.

Second wind: In 1996, she came back and won the Australian Open. She was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009.

Roger Federer

First run: From 2003 to 2012, Federer reeled off 17 Grand Slam titles, the most in ATP history, and spent 302 weeks as the world No. 1.

What happened: Tough rivals, old age. Perhaps a combination. Following his victory at Wimbledon in 2012, Federer went nearly five years without a Grand Slam win. In 2016, Federer took a six-month hiatus from the game to repair a lingering knee injury.

Second wind: Federer returned at the 2017 Australian Open, and voila. He won it. They won Wimbledon a few months later. Then won the 2018 Aussie Open. Currently, Federer is ranked No. 2 in the world.

Honorable mention: Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro.

Cricket

Yuvraj Singh

First run: His 6 sixes and becoming the fastest fifty in Twenty20 Internationals were only part of Singh's accomplishments early in his career.

What happened: In 2011, Singh was diagnosed with "mediastinal seminoma," a germ-cell tumor located between his two lungs. He underwent three cycles of chemotherapy.

Second wind: A few months later, Singh was discharged from hospital. He made a momentous comeback to cricket at the 2012 World T20 and ended up as India's highest wicket-taker in the tournament. Five years later, he scored a career-best 150 to help India win an ODI series against England.