A career highlighted by dominance could soon be remembered for its perseverance and redemption.
At the pinnacle of his career, Tiger Woods transcended the sport of golf, and it was a foregone conclusion that the sport’s biggest star would catch and surpass Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championship victories. At its deepest depths, it was wildly debated if Woods would ever win again.
This weekend at the Masters, Tiger has a chance to put his career back on track and begin to reestablish his legacy as the best golfer in history.
It’s hard to tell what was worse for Tiger in 2009. Was it the bum left knee that was recovering from surgical repair? Or was it his tarnished public reputation after a messy divorce spawned by allegations of infidelity?
Tiger took five months off to deal with his personal issues in early 2010, and when he finally did return at the 2010 Masters, it was plain to see that Tiger was indeed still Tiger. He finished in fourth place and shot his best opening round ever at Augusta, firing a 68 on the first day of the tournament.
Since then, however, injuries and ineffectiveness have plagued the 10-time PGA Player of the Year.
He took one swing at the 2011 Players Championship and felt pain in his left knee. He gingerly limped through a dismal front nine and withdrew from contention.
During the 2011 PGA Championship, Tiger shot an opening-round 77 with two consecutive double-bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes.
After a dismal 2011, it seems like the field has caught up to Tiger. Young studs like Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley have made claims to what used to be only Woods’ spot as the best golfer on the planet.
It’s quite humorous remembering those old Vegas lines during the early 2000s when betting on Tiger against a field of the world's best seemed liked the safest of wagers.
In that time, it was common to see Tiger donning his signature Sunday red polo, blitzing the field and collecting hardware at an alarming rate.
It seemed preordained that Tiger would have bypassed Nicklaus’ 18 major championship wins by now, and that he would be well on his way to catching Sam Snead and his record of 82 PGA Tour wins.
During slumps in his career, analysts and columnists would make a living by being the guy who said Tiger was done, only to backtrack a week later when Tiger won in amazing fashion yet again.
An injury-plagued 2008 U.S. Open became his finest moment. Woods gutted out a 91-hole victory over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines.
His knee was shredded and would require surgery afterwards, but in this tournament alone Tiger had legacy-defining moments. Two eagle putts from what seemed like a mile away put Tiger in contention, and a chip-in birdie gave Woods the lead on Saturday.
After the chip-in, Woods flashed that sheepish million-dollar smile that helped make him a media darling despite his sometimes rude tone with reporters.
When he sunk the 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff, Tiger roared with a super-sized double fist pump that looked all too familiar to those who witnessed his complete dominance in the earlier part of the decade.
Even the most cynical of sports fans never thought Tiger’s dominance would end.
His “Tiger Slam” in 2000-01 was the most remarkable feat in golf. When he won the Masters in 2001, Woods became the first golfer to hold all four PGA Tour major tournament titles at once.
Tiger has made a career of turning skeptics into believers and his legend is already bigger than anyone in golf.
This weekend at Augusta, Woods can go from the guy who was overwhelmingly better than everyone, to the guy who came back from a horrible divorce and a debilitating injury to become better than everyone…again.