Just months ago, Tiger Woods was untouchable. In endorsements with Nike, Gatorade, Accenture; his millions of fans, along with his beautiful wife and kids. This was how we saw him. His advertisements for Gillette and Gatorade invaded our homes night and day, reminding us of the world's best golfer.
It's a weird feeling, seeing now former fans of Woods' (including my elderly neighbor who only watches golf because she thinks Woods is "just so darn cute!") turn their back, it tells me that the man we know as Tiger Woods hasn't changed, but how we feel about him has.
Some people who had watched him for years have now become his number one angry blogger on any post about his infidelity or his scandal.
The tabloids found a new cash cow, with each newly exposed alleged affair women came forward with, claiming to have slept with the world's greatest golfer.
Fast forward a few months, and Woods entered a rehab facility presumably (but never confirmed) for sex addiction. He's not allowed to play golf. His days are monitored and he keeps silent for the duration of his rehab. He then schedules a press conference the Friday of the WGC Accenture match play tournament, of course by coincidence.
For 13 plus minutes, a small nation (of reportedly 70 million people) watched a contrite, apologetic, regretful, and at times, angry Woods address concerns about everything from his on-course antics of club throwing and swearing, to his return to golf.
The latter is of a little more importance. A Woods return to golf, would be the most anticipated golf event in a very long time, even for just the circus of him addressing open media after play.
The gallery is to be enormous. Following Woods with every shot, he'll have more attention and pressure than any athlete in the last decade.
Woods has decided his return will come at the Masters at Augusta.
What better stage than Augusta, with the media focus and a Major at stake, for Woods to return from his "indefinite" leave from golf .
What won't be "the best" for Woods, is his level of play. Having taken most of four months off of golf, and choosing to play in one of the deepest fields in golf as his return makes me question his level of readiness to play at this high of a level, this soon.
Will Woods handle the pressure with grace, execution, and brilliance under scrutiny, or will he have returned too soon, much like his rushed return after his father's passing?
Only time, and his scorecard for the tournament will tell us if he's making the right move to come back now.
Here are just a few of the reasons he should be able to win the Masters:
1. Never underestimate a player, in any sport, as great as Woods is at golf.
2. Any athlete with as much reason as Woods to come back strong from this is going to be the most motivated man on the course upon his return. Not the 40-something who is trying to prove himself on the Tour again, but a man who has fallen so far so fast, that the only way to redeem himself is to be a winner again. Winners are forgiven, losers, forgotten.
3. Golf is Wood's sanctuary. It has been since he first learned the game, and has been his escape before. Whats to stop him from playing as usual? As we learned in his epic match up against Rocco Mediate, Tiger at half strength is still enough to get it done.
4. Athletes feed off of "the moment". Players making "best catches/passes/shots/saves/serves ever" have popped up countless times in any major sporting event, because for whatever reason, players step up their game on the biggest of stages. Doesn't get much bigger than Augusta in April.
America and its fans love to see a redemption story. An athlete, once hailed as the most dominant as any athlete has ever been at theirs, who has since fallen from grace and has seen his public image run through the mud and his endorsement deals stripped away.
If Woods can come back, and play well early, play well enough to be in the top of the field, or better yet...win it, it would be one of the greatest "comebacks" of all time, cementing the fact that even a less than 100% ready Woods can win a Masters against the best field in golf.
Will Tiger win? Will he falter like he did during his 2006 Masters return after his father passed away, a Masters during which he posted back-to-back plus 4 76's? We'll have to wait for Augusta and Woods to answer these questions in April.
Like always, it will be Tiger vs. The Field.
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