Nearly 10 years ago, Tiger Woods’ public persona — and golf career — fell apart in a spectacular scandal that forever changed how the world would see the athlete.
“He still thinks about his sex scandal every day,” a source close to the golfer tells PEOPLE now, following his Sunday comeback win at the 2019 Masters Tournament.
“It’s always there, in the back of his mind. He doesn’t like to talk about it — or even anything that was happening at that time of his life. It’s painful to him. But he persevered and made himself into a better man.”
Things were dark for Woods in 2009.
On the day after Thanksgiving, he crashed his Cadillac Escalade outside of his Florida mansion. His then-wife, Elin Nordegren, used two golf clubs to shatter the rear windows of the vehicle. She told police that she had broken the windows to help rescue an incoherent Woods from the vehicle, but there was widespread speculation that she had broken the windows after an argument.
The seemingly minor traffic accident ignited a firestorm of controversy. Dozens of women soon came forward, alleging that they had sexual relationships with the married golfer.
Within months, Woods had lost most of his sponsors, and his golf game began to suffer — both due to his physical ailments and a loss of focus on the course. Before the scandal, he was the no. 1 ranked golfer in the world. He plummeted in the rankings, reaching an all-time low of #1,199 by December of 2017.
“He lost everything,” the source tells PEOPLE. “And it was really rough for a really long time. He really found out who his friends were. He’s been left with a lot of scars.”
But things have improved dramatically for Woods. Multiple surgeries have relieved the pain in his back and legs. He began to exhibit his old confidence on the golf course.
And on Sunday, his comeback was complete. Woods, 43, won the Masters Tournament again — his first major title in 11 years. His son Charlie Axel, 10, and daughter Sam Alexis, 11, there to witness his triumph.
“It means the world to me. Their love and their support, I just can’t say enough how much that meant to me throughout my struggles when I really just had a hard time moving around,” he told reporters of his kids at his winner’s press conference. “Just their infectiousness of happiness; you know, I was going through a tough time physically. There was a lot of times when I really couldn’t move and so that in itself is difficult.”
Woods and Nordegren amicably share custody of the kids.
“They really work together well now,” says the Woods insider. “They are both mature adults who have figured out what works best for them and for the kids. There is no real friction, and everyone gets along well. They went through a very dark time as a family, and although the family looks different, it is happy and functional and thriving.”
Woods says that his injuries and struggling golf career were instrumental to him spending more time with his family.
“I was very fortunate to be given another chance to do something that I love,” he said. “But more importantly, I’ve been able to participate in my kids’ lives in a way that I couldn’t for a number of years,” he said.
This close to Woods say that he’s now focused and energized, with a strong sense of priorities. “He’s a completely different person than he was in 2009,” says the insider. “He was an overgrown boy back then. Now he’s a man.”