In 2018, Tiger Woods ended a long journey from the bottom of his life back up to the top of his sport, with his comeback win at the 2018 Tour Championship.
Given how low he’d sunk (1,199) in the rankings, it was a win against the odds he faced just a year earlier. But where does Woods’ performance rank in the list of sporting achievements.
From Leicester Football Club’s 5,000-1 Premier League win to Billie Jean King’s “Battle of the Sexes,” we’ve looked at some of the most incredible achievements in the history of sports.
Golf: Tiger Woods wins the 2018 Tour Championship
He was supposed to be the man who would topple the Golden Bear, and smash every golf record in history. But in 2018, Tiger Woods could barely walk – making his win at the 2018 Tour Championship one of the most remarkable achievements in sport.
It was over five years since Woods’ last major win and he was 1,199 in the rankings only a year before the Tour Championship. Woods eventually won by two shots and admitted he “was having a hard time not crying on that last hole”.
Woods had battled back, but does his win rank in the list of greatest sporting achievements? His odds of 14-1 prior to the Tour Championship made him the joint sixth favourite. But he fought through years of pain (mental from his private life and physical from his crumbling back) to come out on top – frankly, he should have been finished long before that day. It’s this endurance and perseverance that makes the story of Tiger's comeback such a special moment in sports.
Horse racing: Frankie Dettori rides all 7 winners at Ascot in 1996
Of all the gambling options you can choose from at an online casino, highstreet bookies, or land-based casino, sports will have the wildest and often longest odds.
But while card games can give you up to a 99% chance of winning, it’s the unknown that can make sports betting so appealing – it’s why someone betting £59 on Frankie Dettori riding all seven winners at Ascot in 1996 is amazing.
Yes, this punter knew Dettori was a highly skilled and winning jockey – anyone with a casual interest in the sport was aware of this. The odds, though, were not in his favour – to win all seven races he was at 25,095-1...
So, how great is Dettori’s achievement? Well, there’s more chance of you picking 17 correct football results than Frankie riding those seven winners.
Athletics: Jesse Owens sticks it to Hitler at the 1936 Olympics
The 1936 Olympics were supposed to be a global advertisement for the Führer’s regime – it was the first Olympics to be televised and came as Hitler had locked Germany inside his fist. Hitler wanted an Aryan victory to showcase his ideologies but he was to be shown up by an African-American athlete, Jesse Owens.
Owens won four gold medals in track and field in 1936, becoming the first American to do so and an advertisement for the idiocy of Hitler’s beliefs.
But it turns out that Owens may never have had his chance to stick it to Hitler. Not only because the US considered boycotting the Games, but because of the hypocrisy of such an idea – Owens was living in an America that treated him and other African Americans as second class citizens. It’s this that makes his achievement not just impressive, but iconic.
Cricket: Don Bradman’s test batting average of 99.94
It’s been called the greatest achievement by any sportsperson – Don Bradman ended his career with a test batting average of 99.94, only being denied achieving 100 after getting a duck in his last game.
Despite this unparalleled achievement (alongside a first-class average of 95.15), there are some who attach a caveat to Bradman’s career – they say that it was easier to bat during his era.
However, history is about context and Bradman could only bat against the balls and bowlers of the day. So what’s our view? That Bradman’s feat is an incredible sporting achievement.
Football: Leicester become the 5,000-1 EPL champions
You’d have been either partisan or insane to bet on Leicester winning the English football in the 2015/16 season
Let’s put it this way, the odds of Spurs beating a record-breaking Liverpool team in the 2018/19 Champions League final were 6/4. The odds of Leicester conquering the Premier League were 5,000-1, the same as Elvis Pressley being found alive.
Leicester were no-hopers.
But this rag-tag group managed by the world’s nicest loser (Claudia Ranieri) overcame the odds against them. In doing so, they gave the city its first-ever league title, and became the least likely victors in the history of team sports.
Basketball: Michael Jordan throws “The Shot” to win the series
Despite some incredible rivals for his crown, there’s no basketball player as iconic as Michael Jordan – he’s Air Jordan, His Airness, the man who made the Chicago Bulls a global institution.
Sports is about iconography and a lot of that boils down to specific moments. Jordan is responsible for many iconic moments, though, perhaps his greatest is “The Shot” – honestly, it has its own Wikipedia page.
“The Shot” came with three seconds of play remaining in the fifth game of the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round. Chicago Bulls trailed Cleveland Cavaliers 100–99 – it was do or die.
Jordan received the ball on the foul line, made “The Shot,” giving the Bulls a 101-100 win, the series, and the kickstart to their basketball dynasty.
US Football: Miami Dolphins go unbeaten to achieve perfection
For people of a certain age, the greatest achievement of the Miami Dolphins is to have launched Jim Carrey’s career – he saved the team’s fictional mascot, Snowflake, in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, aided by the team’s real star quarterback, Dan Marino.
The real greatest achievement of the Miami Dolphins is an even greater story.
During the 1972 season, the team went unbeaten, winning 14-0 during their regular season and then securing wins in all of their three end-of-season games – culminating in Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins.
How significant is the achievement? Only one team since and one prior to the 72 Dolphins came close to a perfect season – Chicago Bears (1934 & 1942) and the New England Patriots (2007).
Rugby: South Africa win the World Cup & unite the rainbow nation
In 1995, South Africa was a nation that needed to heal. Apartheid had denied the majority of its people their basic rights and their President, Nelson Mandela, 27 years of his life. Hosting the rugby World Cup gave the nation a shot at unity.
The 1995 World Cup was a tournament of firsts:
It was the first sporting event to be held in post-apartheid South Africa.
It was the first time in years the team had been allowed to compete internationally.
It was the first occasion a black player was to feature for the Springboks
Understandably, South Africa were a longshot to win the World Cup in 1995. But the team overcome the odds to defeat New Zealand in the final, after which Mandela presented the trophy to the captain, François Pienaar, helping to unite the Rainbow nation.
Snooker: Ronnie O’Sullivan becomes the first to make 100 centuries
The Rocket, The Magician, The Essex Exocet, Ronnie O’Sullivan has been known by many names, but it's his actions at the table that define him – few, if any, snooker players have been as naturally gifted as O’Sullivan and his greatest achievement cements this.
In 2019, O’Sullivan became the first player to score 1,000 professional centuries, and he did it while winning the Players Championship in Preston.
Although there may be other achievements that fans and commentators prize higher (his five World Championships, seven UK Championships, or seven Masters titles) we’ll put his centuries into context – the next closest is Stephen Hendry, who has 775.
Tennis: Billie Jean King is the winner in the “Battle of the Sexes”
Billie Jean King is a tennis legend – she won Grand Slam 12 singles titles, 16 doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. But it’s not her trophies that represent the achievement that she is most remembered for – in 1973, she beat former men’s World No. 1, Bobby Riggs, in the “Battle of the Sexes.”
Riggs, a known gambler who would no doubt the range of online casinos available today, had beaten Margaret Court (soon to be the women’s World No. 1) in May 1973. He saw that as license to taunt female tennis players and rolled the dice by baiting King into a match. King accepted Riggs’ challenge to play him, with the game scheduled for 20 September.
Symbolic exchanges were made prior to the game, with Riggs giving King a Sugar Daddy lollipop and King giving Riggs a piglet – to demonstrate his chauvinism.
King beat Riggs in straight sets, winning: 6–4, 6–3, 6–3.
The game was watched by 90 million people, one of whom was future US President, Barack Obama. Speaking decades later, Obama explained the importance of the match to tackling sexism in sport and society as a whole: “You don’t realize it, but I saw that match at 12. And now I have two daughters, and it has made a difference in how I raise them.”
It’s difficult to say exactly where Tiger Woods’ 2018 comeback win ranks in the history of sports – the odds were nowhere near as long as Frankie Detorri’s seven winning rides, and the impact nothing like as culturally significant as Billie Jean King’s “Battle of the Sexes.”
But that’s the thing with sports – it’s not about certainty, it’s about contextual experiences. For this reason, we think that it’s right to consider Woods’ success one of the finest achievements in the history of sports.