With his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his third win in four starts in 2013, Tiger Woods officially became the No. 1 golfer in the world again, a distinction the best player of this—or any—generation has not held since October, 2010. To say Woods is back would be an understatement.
The road to get back for Woods has been as long and circuitous as any in the history of American sports.
Woods' fall from golfing grace began some 11 months prior to losing the top ranking in golf, when his Cadillac Escalade crashed into a tree on November 27, 2009, setting forth a chain of events both professionally and personally that no one could have seen coming.
Looking back through the last 1,200 days in the life and career of Woods will serve as a striking reminder of just how crazy—how surreal—this journey has been.
When news first broke over Thanksgiving weekend, 2009, that Tiger Woods had been in a one-car accident near his Florida home, rumors swirled as to how the world's best golfer ended up in the hospital after hitting a fire hydrant and a tree in his SUV in the middle of the night.
Was it alcohol? Was it sleeping pills? Was it his wife wielding a golf club chasing him down the driveway after she learned about his infidelity?
At the time of the accident, the spin was already out of control (h/t CNN.com):
Woods pulled out of his driveway in a 2009 Cadillac SUV and struck a fire hydrant, then a tree, according to an incident report from the Florida highway patrol in Orange County.
Police Chief Daniel Saylor said two Windermere police officers were the first to arrive on the scene.
"There was Tiger Woods laying on the ground in front of the vehicle with his wife over him rendering first aid," he told reporters.
"He was in and out of consciousness with lacerations to his upper and lower lip," Saylor said. "He was mumbling but didn't say anything coherent."
Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren, told the police she was inside the house when she heard the accident. She said she went outside and used a golf club to break out the rear window of the vehicle, then pulled him from the SUV.
"According to the officers, yes, she was very upset," he said in response to a question.
But, he added, "Things like this happen all the time ... I understand he's stable and he's fine."
Totally. Things like this happen all the time.
As the scandal began to unravel, Woods remained silent, but the women in his life certainly did not. The daily barrage of rumors cascaded from the pages of America's tabloids for weeks.
Woods may have ruined his marriage while single handedly saving the tabloid newspaper industry. (Note: We Internet folks certainly covered it too. The Tiger Sex Train was a pageview bonanza in late 2009 for sure.)
The perils of print media came roaring back on Woods in early 2010. Having previously taken cover shots with famed photographer Annie Leibovitz for a Vanity Fair story, Woods was captured shirtless and menacing on the cover of the magazine, surely an image his PR team did not need getting out after weeks of shirtless women romantically linked to Woods adorned every cover imaginable.
The cover was for February's magazine issue, but given the timeline of his transgressions, the publication leaked the image in early January. Leibovitz gave her explanation of the lead image thusly (h/t VanityFair.com):
Tiger is an intensely competitive athlete—and quite serious about his sport. I wanted to reveal that in these photos. And to show his incredible focus and dedication.
Clearly, this was a study in how context can alter content.
Aussie Open patrons get in on the action in January 2010.
Still avoiding the media, Woods checked into a sex addition rehabilitation program in Mississippi. Gentle Path, part of the Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services, was supposed to be far outside the media spotlight.
It was not.
After the paparazzi photo surfaced, the clinic—or Woods' PR team—seemingly tried to deflect the attention by sending out a body double to misdirect photographers in hopes they would think it wasn't actually Woods.
It was. It was Woods.
Sorry, I shouldn't have said "presser" in the headline because the moment where Tiger Woods apologized was decidedly NOT a press conference. The Golf Writers Association of America decided to boycott the televised event, where Woods, well, acted like a robot.
The most memorable moment of the televised speech was probably when the only head-on camera Woods' PR team would allow in the room went out, forcing us to see the side angle wide shot for way longer than anyone anticipated.
To this day, to call that event a disaster would be letting whoever orchestrated the debacle off the hook.
Oh, right...golf. Woods returned after months away from the game because of his transgressions and his injuries to tee things up at Augusta National for the Masters.
Buoyed by fan support in and around the tournament, Woods shot the best first round in his Masters career en route to finishing in a tie for fourth.
The 2010 Masters was, possibly, the most memorable tournament of the modern golf era, not only for the return of Woods to the game, but for the guy who won the green jacket that year.
If there was ever a good guy-bad guy moment in golf, it was the juxtaposition of Woods apologizing to fans and fellow golfers to start the weekend and Phil Mickelson hugging his cancer-ridden wife after winning his second Masters to close it.
Jim Nantz's "that's a win for the family" call was a clear reference to both of golf's biggest stars.
Call it karma. Call it coincidental timing. Call it whatever you want, but the months after Woods returned to the game were anything but stellar.
After finishing fourth in the 2010 Masters, Woods missed the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship in his next tournament before withdrawing from The Players Championship the following week with debilitating back and neck pain.
Woods did struggle through pain at the 2010 U.S. Open to finish fourth, but did not register another top-10 finish that entire season.
Woods had a horrible start to 2011 as well and despite another top-five finish at The Masters, he sprained his medial collateral ligament and his Achilles tendon during the third round at Augusta. The injuries were not fully disclosed for another two weeks, shortly before Woods had to withdraw from The Players Championship for a second straight year.
He returned nearly three months later to prepare for the PGA Championship, where he missed the cut—just the third time Woods had ever missed a cut at a major and the first time he had ever missed a cut in the PGA Championship.
Let's circle back to the late summer of 2010 for a moment, when Tiger and Elin Woods were officially divorced.
From late November, 2009, when the accident occurred, the scandal blew up and Tiger rehabbed both his body and his sexual proclivity away from the game of golf, he was still, technically, married. The divorce was finalized in late August, 2010, some nine months after Tiger's transgressions became public. (Please refrain from making the obligatory joke about how many babies Woods could have fathered in that time. Oops, I just did it.)
With Woods worth nearly a billion dollars, the divorce proceedings understandably took months to hash out. Reports of Elin's settlement after the divorce vary from a reported $110 million to nearly $350 million.
Is any price worth that kind of embarrassment?
From 1998 through 2003, Tiger Woods finished every season as the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world.
In 2004, Vijay Singh won nine times on tour, including the PGA Championship, to pass Woods and become the world's new No. 1.
By June of 2005, Woods had taken back his No. 1 ranking from Singh, a distinction he held for more than five years.
On October 31, 2010, Lee Westwood officially passed Woods as golf's top-ranked player in the world. Westwood was subsequently passed by Martin Kaymer and then Luke Donald, who was overtaken by Rory McIlroy in 2012.
Tiger's PR machine finally started working right. In a clear effort to win back fans, Woods joined Twitter, sending out his first tweet on November 17, 2010.
Two weeks later, Woods conducted his first of several Twitter Q&A sessions, winning back his fanbase 140 characters at a time.
Part of Tiger moving away from his past was the need to get away from his caddy, Steve Williams. Williams was often as much a bouncer for galleries and media members who annoyed Tiger on the course as he was an actual caddy.
For years, Woods needed a person like that. With a career reboot in the works, Woods felt it was time to move on. Of course, Williams didn't care for the way it was handled and took his frustrations to the media.
Williams became rich many times over for carrying the bag of the world's greatest golfer. In his effort to play the victim, Williams actually did more to make Woods a sympathetic figure than anything Tiger could have done for himself.
It had been nearly three calendar years since Woods won an official PGA Tour event, but on March 25, 2012, Woods was back holding a trophy, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, a course Woods has owned throughout his career.
Woods wasn't yet back to being the old Tiger, but he was sure getting there.
Woods had an abysmal time at the 2012 Masters, missed the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship and had another terrible run at The Players, cooling off the conversation of whether he was "back."
Then came The Memorial Tournament, Woods' tuneup before the U.S. Open, where he used this amazing chip in to win his second tournament in five starts.
He certainly has a flair for the dramatic.
Tiger Woods has never been a great team player, but that was never more evident than at the 2012 Ryder Cup where he played in four matches and mustered a measly half point.
Essentially, Woods was shut out in the Ryder Cup, earning his only half point after the Cup had already been secured by Europe. Woods was so bad that he was almost a forgotten part of the epic collapse in which the cup slipped out of America's collective grasp.
Woods won his first tournament of 2013 in the first tournament he entered, outpacing the field at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines en route to his 75th career victory.
Let the "Is Tiger back?" conversation runneth over (from an article I wrote for Bleacher Report):
He's still back, right? Tiger is back? Little else matters in golf until spring when the entire sports world becomes fascinated by a few thousand azaleas in Georgia. Whether Tiger is or is not back seems to be a question that matters even to non-golf fans—perhaps it matters more to non-golf fans than those who most closely follow the game. With so much competition in our current sports landscape, it takes extraordinary circumstances for a sport to stand out above the rest. For golf, people care about the majors, the Ryder Cup and any tournament Woods is winning. That will never change.
Wow, I wrote about him being back a lot in the last few years.
Woods and skier Lindsey Vonn announced, via Facebook, they are an item. Rumors swirled for over a month after the golfer reached out to the world champion skier following her horrific crash.
The statement (h/t Facebook):
This season has been great so far and I'm happy with my wins at Torrey and Doral. Something nice that's happened off the course was meeting Lindsey Vonn. Lindsey and I have been friends for some time, but over the last few months we have become very close and are now dating. We thank you for your support and for respecting our privacy. We want to continue our relationship, privately, as an ordinary couple and continue to compete as athletes.
Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational yet again—the eighth victory there—and regained the world's top ranking.
Sure, Woods said long ago that he only cares about winning majors and he won't officially be back in some people's minds until he wins a major but...would you bet against him this year?
I certainly won't.