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Tiger Woods: The Comeback

Tiger on the prowl: Woods and the Match Play

Tiger on the prowl: Woods and the Match Play

Okay, this isn’t quite Rocky, and and Survivor isn’t playing the theme in the background, but as far as golf goes, the comeback of Tiger Woods is life-altering. Or at least that’s what Golf Channel would like to have you believe, since they’ve had a “Tiger clock” on screen counting down the time to the great man’s return. He’s surely to win the Match Play this week without a challenge and I’ve even heard Woods is working with Obama to find a way to fix the economy. That’s how great this man is.

Now back to reality.

It is fascinating to see my peers trying to discern exactly what Woods’ return for the first time since June means. Is he better than ever? Will he struggle? Will he win every major from here on out? Questions, questions.

Gwen Knapp at the San Francisco Chronicle raises a good point — which Woods will we see and how bad is the knee?

Woods is 33, 13 years into his pro career and 13 away from 46. Will he hold out that long, and still be a contender in middle age? His fitness level has suggested that he could surpass Nicklaus in longevity as well as achievement. Now, we have to wonder.

How old is that left knee after four surgeries, two of them less than six months apart? The latest was the most extreme, repairing a torn ACL and facilitating recovery from a double stress fracture.

Woods said last week that he knew the knee had improved dramatically because he could hit a ball without the bones in it “sliding all over the place.” The imagery, as grotesque as it is, only adds to the stirring quality of his last tournament, the magnificent five-day victory over Rocco Mediate at the U.S. Open eight months ago.

Perhaps that’s getting ahead of things. Let’s start with #64 in the Match Play bracket — little known Brendan Jones, an Australian who most think will be steamrolled by a resurgent Woods. Apparently even Jones thinks that is the likely scenario judging by his comments:

“The first thing I will probably say to Tiger “is, ‘You know, can I have three a side? Maybe one more on the front, in case I don’t get to the back?’ ”

“I haven’t had a chance to speak to Nick O’Hern or Peter O’Malley” — Australians who beat Woods in past years — “but I spoke with Stephen Ames and he had some good advice for me,” a joking reference to the Canadian who publicly doubted Woods’ driving accuracy in 2006 and promptly suffered a first-round, 9-and-8 annihilation.

But Jones isn’t really the issue here. The bigger factor is the state of the game when Woods left last June versus the state of the world when he returns. Golf has followed the economy into a quagmire of failed financial dealings, leaving it with sponsors going to jail and sponsors vacating the tour. It is less than a year since Woods departed San Diego after beating Rocco Mediate, but in terms of the changing situation, it appears decades have passed.

That’s Steve Elling’s point, and Woods’ peers clearly recognize how important he is to the health of the game, even if he keeps them from the top of the leaderboard:

Woods said that his cell phone went into meltdown because of the text-messages received from his professional peers, who know all too well what he means to the economic well-being of the tour. So does everybody else. Woods was described as a one-man economic stimulus package for the game, which is limping along like he was, pre-surgery.

“I don’t know about that,” Woods said Friday. “As far as off the golf course, and whatever appeal, or vitality of the tour, or as you said, [being] the stimulus package, those are things I feel are out of my hands.

“I can only control what I do on the golf course.”

But, as Elling notes, there’s a lot more expected from Woods:

Woods’ comeback, given the greater context affecting golf and beyond, brings to mind the plaintive lyric from a song penned four decades ago: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo-woo-woo.”

In the song, DiMaggio represents all that was good about America — the purity, class and grace that is so sorely missed. Woods embodies some of those same characteristics, but at this point in the country’s timeline, we’d all settle for a return to the feel-good glory days of early 2008, not 1968, when the tune was released.

Okay, that’s a lot to put on one man’s shoulders, even if he is the world’s best-known athlete.

Where’s the truth in all the hyperbole? The fact of the matter is Woods is likely to be rusty, not having played in eight months against top flight competition. That means he should still polish off Jones, who can’t possibly be prepared for the amount of attention his match will receive. But that doesn’t mean Woods is a sure thing for the tournament — which seems like an odd choice for a comeback considering the chances he might have to walk 36 holes.

But more than this, Woods should return close to the form he left in — and perhaps better if the knee is repaired. This isn’t Ben Hogen coming back after suffering a near fatal car accident. Woods had knee surgery — and a relatively common one. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t win a major this year, though I think the British Open is more likely than The Masters. A U.S. Open repeat? Not out of the question.

The North Carolina News & Observer has a list of Tiger’s greatest moments. Will we see their like again? We’ll get some sense this

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert, what I’m not looking forward to is what I call the Fred Couples syndrome ……. for YEARS every time Freddy showed up on TV there was mention of his back issues (as if everyone watching hadn’t heard this 1,000,000 times before). What we now have to look forward to now is every time (and it will be a lot of times) Tiger shows up on the screen we’ll be hearing about the knee …. over and over and over and over again.

  • Good point GregM, I too, am fearful of this. If Tiger’s knees can’t make it, quit competitive golf, Bobby Orr had to quit hockey.

  • Tiger has proven people wrong over and over again.

    Secondly, as soon as he wins his first tournament since his return, all questions re his knee will go away.

  • Great piece; all this attention on Woods though…is he able to handle it long-term? Yes he could handle the spotlight before, but now with the golf-conomy struggling, and he as the saviour, can he muster the desire to deal with this whole crazy situation?

  • Considering he won the last tournament with a busted knee, I wouldn’t hesitate for even a second to say that he will be in contention to win the match play event. The man is almost unhuman and time after time makes the big putts and hits shots most playing pros wouldnt even consider. After accomplishing so much so early in his career, I think in the near future he might get bored with playing so much competetive golf and his mind may not be into it 100% thats when the rest of the field will catch up. Not because of his abilities but because of lack of interest.

  • greensguy, you are leaving him an opening if his knee fails.

    He has one career desire right now and that is to beat every record that JWN established. Note that he has been on the Tour 13 years and 13 more to go to beat the last Major of JWN. He is only 1/2 the way there. 🙂
    I hope his knee lasts but 4 operations on one makes it unlikely.

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