Biggest athlete title droughts: Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, more

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On this date in 2019, something akin to a miracle happened.

Tiger Woods, once the most dominant golfer any of us have ever seen, was in what appeared to be the twilight of his career. Injuries and scandal had diminished his once-unassailable game, and he hadn’t won a major golf championship since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Then, 11 years after that last major win, Tiger triumphed at the 2019 Masters, beating Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka by a single stroke. It was an incredible moment for the then 43-year-old, when he seemed to reclaim the skill of his glory years.

Of course, Tiger isn’t the only legendary athlete to have to wait a bit between championships. Here are some of the most notable ones in recent memory.

Yes, there once was a period of time where Tom Brady didn’t win a Super Bowl every three years. After his initial run of three titles with the New England Patriots, Brady went a full nine seasons without hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. One of those seasons was nearly entirely lost to injury, and in two of them he made the Super Bowl, only to lose in dramatic fashion to the New York Giants. Brady ended his drought in 2014 against the Seattle Seahawks, and ended up winning three more championships before he retired for good in 2023.

Els is one of a few players to win majors in three different decades, but it took him quite some time to secure that third one. After winning the U.S. Open in 2002, Els lost the 2004 Masters to Phil Mickelson by a single stroke, then came in third at the 2007 PGA Championship. Then, in 2012, he broke through at the Open Championship, birdieing the final hole to beat Adam Scott.

Roger Federer (2012, 2017)

Injuries limited Federer after his 2012 win at Wimbledon, and though he made another Wimbledon and US Open final in the interim, it took him until 2017 to bring home another major title, this time at the Australian Open. He also won Wimbledon that year and defended his Aussie Open title in 2018.

Derek Jeter (2000, 2009)

Jeter’s New York Yankees squad won World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 in one of the most dominant runs in baseball history. While the Yankees’ 2001 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks didn’t exactly send them into a tailspin, it took until 2009 for Jeter to lead the Bronx Bombers to another World Series title — the last of his storied career.

Parish was a key member of one of the NBA’s most iconic dynasties — alongside Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, he won three titles with the Boston Celtics. He wasn’t quite done yet, however. In the final season of his career, he came off the bench to help Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman win a title with the Chicago Bulls.

Kobe Bryant (2002, 2009)

The Kobe-Shaq Los Angeles Lakers were a force at the start of the new millennium, winning three straight titles from 2000 to 2002 and making another NBA Finals in 2004. They struggled after O’Neal left, however, and were even under .500 in the 2004-05 season. Bryant kept being Kobe Bryant, however, and won two consecutive titles starting in 2009.

Jon Jones (2015, 2018, 2020, 2023)

Jones’ career has always been somewhat volatile, so much so that this has actually happened twice to him. He defended his UFC light heavyweight title in 2015 for a record eighth consecutive time but was stripped of the title after being involved in a hit-and-run. He fought again in 2016 and 2017, but was stripped of the belt in the former and had the latter declared a no contest due to use of performance-enhancing drugs. He returned to title form, winning the UFC light heavyweight belt in 2018, but vacated it in 2020 over a dispute in pay and didn’t fight at all for the next three years. His return in 2023 at heavyweight, however, showed that he wasn’t about to miss a beat, as he defeated Ciryl Gane for the heavyweight championship.

Matt Cullen (2006, 2016)

After the 2004-05 NHL lockout — and a year spent playing in Italy — Cullen joined the Carolina Hurricanes just in time for their 2005-06 title run. He’d have to wait another 10 seasons for his next title, which he won with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.

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