FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - April 18, 2019 - 12:00am

I know this might be unseasonal. But I really have to write about this.

This is not about the soul; it is about the body. This is not about faith; but it is all about belief.

Last Sunday, at Augusta, Georgia, a miracle happened. Because of the time zones, Filipino golfing faithful pushed away sleep and kept vigil as that miracle unfolded. Tiger Woods, almost literally, rose from the throes of disability to take the Masters Championship. It was like walking out of the tomb.

The golfing world’s best were all there. The Masters is the most hallowed of all the majors. Against the odds, Tiger muscled his way through the crowded leaderboard and finished the tournament on top.

This was his first major tournament win after 11 years. He last won in Augusta in 2005. That does not say enough about this feat.

In the decade since he first won the Masters in 1997, Tiger dominated the sport. He was fit, forceful and focused. It was as if he willed where the ball would go. He set new standards for a sport steeped in tradition although often lacking in thrill.

He was more than a sporting hero. He was the icon of what the sport could become. Thousands of young and talented players took up the sport because of him. He rescued golf from stodginess and brought it to new heights of majesty.

Tiger, almost single-handedly, brought about a global boom in golf. Hundreds of new courses were built to cater to the hundreds of thousands of new converts to the sport.

It will be sacrilegious to call him the sport’s messiah. But he was close to that.

Over a decade ago, Tiger fell into really hard times. He suffered injuries that might have permanently ended his career. He went through crises in his personal life. His game suffered after his father’s death in 2007.

For many years, the champion could not swing a club without enduring so much pain. Two years ago, he could not get out of bed unassisted. All the sports commentators wrote him off. He was a mere relic of his old self.

The many surgeries he went through did not help. That was until he found a specialist who performed spinal fusion surgery on his damaged back. Then things looked better. For ordinary mortals, that might have meant simply that he could again play the game he so loves.

But Tiger is no ordinary mortal. He did not want to simply creep back to the game as an ordinary weekend player. He wanted to dominate it as he did before.

Doing so required determination of biblical proportion. Game requires discipline and grace, imagination and fortitude in equal measures. Tiger had a surfeit of all that.

He began training as much as his frail body would allow. We saw glimpses of a possible comeback last year, when he placed second in two major tournaments.

Last Sunday, he bested the best. The champion had been born again.

This is a testament to the wonders of modern science and the true grit of the man. One would have been worthless without the other.


Notre Dame

Hours after the close of the Augusta tournament, and the celebrations that entailed, another icon was devastated by fire.

The Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, undergoing renovation over the past few years, was partially destroyed by fire. The 800-year old edifice was at the heart of the city, a lasting symbol of what genius might accomplish.

Before the Eiffel Tower marred the Paris skyline, there was just the majesty of this cathedral. This was an epic in Gothic architecture, with its flying buttresses, its two bell towers and its spire that reached to the heavens.

Among the best hours of my life were those spent sitting on the Left Bank and marveling at this structure. This was a magnificent piece of architecture built long before heavy equipment became available. It was erected over many decades by men wilding nothing more than chisels and levers. Yet it never fails to overpower the senses.

One never tires gazing at the Notre Dame, in all its angles and in all conditions of light. This is an edifice that inspired generations, bringing forth some of the greatest literary and visual creations.

While the cathedral burned, crowds of Parisians huddled around and began singing hymns. When the fire was finally put out, one of France’s greatest cellists began playing at the church’s apron.

One recalls that other musician who brought his piano out to the street and began repeatedly playing “Imagine” the morning after terrorists attacked in several places in the city a few years back. The French do have a brilliant way of responding to calamity, inducing hope and arousing fervor.  

The fire that struck Notre Dame recalls the same tragedy that befell Windsor Castle in 1992. Like the cathedral, the castle that symbolizes the British monarchy was also partially destroyed by fire. In the years following, the British government put itself to the task of restoring the iconic edifice.

Hours after the fire, some of France’s most famous companies pledged money to restore the Notre Dame. Two days after fire broke out, the pledges were running at close to a billion euros.

Although some of the artwork at the cathedral was lost, the most precious relics were saved. That is cause for some consolation.

Experts calculate it will take about 15 years to rebuild the Notre Dame. President Emmanuel Macron, however, wants the task completed in five years.

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