Will his performance at the Masters and beyond be deafening enough to mute all the other noise surrounding him?
This is Tiger’s chance to remind us why he’s a household name. You know, before he hit a tree and became a household joke. What was especially devastating to Tiger over the last five months, from a PR standpoint, was the lack of a diversion from the steady stream of freaky revelations. We heard from bimbos and cocktail waitresses, party girls and porn stars, but no roar from the 18th hole at a tournament. There was nothing to keep Tiger from being lampooned by Leno and Letterman, South Park and Howard Stern, and parodied by crafty internet geeks. His trademark focus was confined to rehab instead of a 15-foot birdie putt.
It may take him a while to get his sponsors back, and even longer to get his wife back. But the championships, the crowd and the trophies? That’ll be easier if Tiger didn’t lose any edge during the scandal.
“I don’t think anybody out here will question his ability to perform at the highest level,” said Phil Mickelson. “From a player’s point of view, we expect to see the same player that we have always seen. You know, I don’t think anybody expected him to play well in the 2008 U.S. Open when he had not touched a club in a while, and yet he came back and won.”
Yes, from the standpoint of a lengthy layoff, Tiger has been there and done that. The difference between 2008 and now, though, is physical vs. mental. Returning from knee surgery and image surgery may not necessarily be the same thing.
“No matter how he looks or what he says, you don’t fully know how this is affecting him inside and how it’s affecting his golf,” said Paddy Harrington. “People react differently. I would be a hopeless wreck, but that’s my nature.”
But golf has a funny way of stripping you bare and flushing out the real you. So take Tiger’s new approach for what it is. This tactic hasn’t stood the ultimate test. If he’s tied for the lead come Sunday on the back nine and either misses a 3-foot put or makes a 30-footer, you think he’s not reacting? Of course he is. Or rather, he should.
He can’t afford to tinker with whatever helps him clobber the field simply because that element made him a champion many times over. And given the current climate, he can’t afford to be anything else in this tournament and those to come. Golf doesn’t need a relaxed, touchy-feely, sedate Woods trying to tip-toe his way around the greens. Golf — and Tiger — needs the cutthroat winner from the past.
“The only way you’re going to find out is over time,” said Jack Nicklaus.
Another reason for alarm: He said, “it’s not about championships, it’s how you live your life.” Well, yeah, your life away from golf. No question. Be morally grounded and spiritually balanced. But inside the ropes, it’s all about winning championships, all about chasing Nicklaus’ record for major victories. Hopefully, Tiger was just shoveling us some PC with that part of his “putting things in perspective” talk.
Also, Tiger is aware the more titles he wins, the smaller the pimple will be on his legacy, in the long-term. And he’s very conscious about that legacy.
He’s at 14 majors, four shy of St. Jack. And the course set-up this year for the majors — St. Andrews and Pebble Beach to follow — makes you understand why Woods wouldn’t miss a single tee time. He knows the stretch run for Jack starts now.
“Of course he does,” Nicklaus said. “Why do you think he’s here? I don’t think he’s here for his health or anything. He’s here to play golf. That’s what he is.”
Tiger doesn’t want history to reflect how he came up short of Jack, all because he chased something else for two-plus years. And there’s only one way to control what history will say.
“I’m going out there to win this thing,” he said.
Tiger's Masters return
Follow Tiger Woods as he returns to golf at the 2010 Masters.
Latest golf video
Woods-Garcia feud good for golf?
The Crossover: Michelle Beadle breaks down the Sergio Garcia-Tiger Woods feud and wonders if it's good for the sport of golf. If Woods' name is in headlines, it can't be anything but good for the sport.
Top 10 'accessible' golf courses
From California to Florida, these amazing greens are open for anyone to play.