Last Sunday, Tiger Woods watched in pain as his birdie on the first and only playoff hole skittered past the cup, resulting in the extension of what was already his longest streak without a win.
It concluded a tragic year for Woods, one that was set up to be a strong one but turned out to be anything but that. It all started on Thanksgiving in 2009, when Woods awkwardly stumbled out of his Florida home and crashed his Escalade into a fire hydrant.
This set off a chain of toxic events for Woods—first the admission of not just one, but countless affairs, followed by the eventual inevitable downfall of the squeaky clean image he managed to project for so long. When he finally returned to golf, he was simply not the same as the loss of confidence resulted in just two top-10 Tour finishes and left people wondering if he really would break Golden Bear's record.
However, the most stark and consequential change has not been on the course, but rather off of it. Before the car crash, if you asked folks what they thought about Tiger Woods, some common words you would hear were "champion, winner, golfer, etc." Now, it's more along the lines of "phony, scumbag, cheater."
Such disparity in opinion for a man who was once America's darling is difficult to imagine. Until you take into account the fact that it has happened before. Very recently as a matter of fact.
Eight hundred and sixty four days prior to the famous car crash, another legendary American athlete was in some serious hot water. I am speaking of course about then Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who on July 17, 2007 was indicted for dogfighting charges that tarnished his image in the eye of the public.
Of course, his image was, unlike Woods, already flawed. His antics included, among other things, flipping off his fans and trying to sneak weed past the gate at an airport. However, that is not the point of this article.
The point of course is that that same Michael Vick is now a full time starter for the NFC East leading Eagles and is emerging as a strong candidate for MVP. Not only is he starting to play well again, but the public has fallen back in love with him.
Yes, the Michael Vick who just a couple years ago was an evil animal abuser is now a hero once more.
Will Tiger be able to do the same thing? Perhaps not, but it has been done before, which means it can be done again.
If Tiger wishes to pull of a Michael Vick-type PR comeback, there are two basic things he must do.
The first is very simple: he needs to start winning again. It has now been well over a year since his last victory at the 2009 Australian Open, and about two and a half since his last major at Torry Pines. This kind of streak is unacceptable for a man who was once a sure bet to pass Nicklaus in major victories.
A couple of wins in 2011 would be nice, especially a major or two. A good place to earn that would be the 2011 Masters Tournament in April. Not only would it bring his confidence and poise back, but it's relatively early in the year so it could get the ball rolling for another major.
Two majors would help Woods immensely in his chase toward's Jack's record, put Tiger atop of the golf world again, and remind everyone why they liked him in the first place.
How does Tiger regain his popularity?
The second is a little bit more abstract, but still relatively easy to understand. He needs to show the public why he deserves a second chance, rather than expecting it from the get go. This means showing people that, while he certainly isn't perfect, he's still a fairly good man.
Perhaps you subscribe to ESPN the Magazine and read his statement on perfection. The last lines sum it up best: "Like I said, we're inherently flawed, so how can there be perfection? But I'm always trying to get better. That's always been my goal. There's always things you need to improve."
As long as he maintains the mentality that there is always room for improvement, both in golf and life, he should have no problem regaining his stature in the eyes of the public.
After all, if Michael Vick—a convicted felon who was all the more demonized by the media when his dirt was uncovered—can do it, why can't Tiger Woods, the man who has been able to defy the boundaries his whole entire life?