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