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Is Tiger’s Comeback Real?

His personal foul-ups and physical ailments slowed the recovery of his golf game, but his Bay Hill win shows he is regaining his touch
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
The Brains Behind Homeland, May/June 2012

When Tiger Woods sank a birdie putt on the 18th hole to win his own golf tournament last December, he looked a lot like the old Tiger, punching the air with a right uppercut, letting out a yell, strutting to the cup to retrieve that winning ball.

After all he had been through the past two years, the injuries, the personal meltdown of infidelity and divorce and to a lesser extent the change of coaches and the change of caddies, it could have been easy to say that his victory at the Chevron World Challenge, an unofficial event against a field of 17 other players, was the line of demarcation between Tiger 1.0 and Tiger 2.0.

Tiger 1.0 was the most dominant player of his generation, winning 71 PGA Tour titles, including 14 major tournaments, and a further 12 titles worldwide. He was stalking Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, and the Golden Bear was resigned that he would have to give way to the roaring Tiger.

Now, in 2012, we have Tiger 2.0. At a highly worn age 36, several rungs down the ladder from his perennial perch as No. 1
in the world rankings, Tiger 2.0 was talking a confident game, but not exactly playing it. Then, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida, a few miles from his former home in Isleworth where his personal life and careeer came to a crashing halt, Tiger won again in convincing style.

Did that victory mean the older Tiger might occassionally roar, or the Tiger of old is back?

For more than two years we’ve seen him stumble with his game as he also attempted to reassemble his perosnal life. The start of the 2012 season tempted his fans. He had a chance to win at Abu Dhabi, but lost to Robert Rock’s solid last round. He had a chance to win at the AT&T but played a miserable final round while rival and playing partner Phil Mickelson stomped all over him. He shot 62 on Sunday at the Honda Classic, finishing birdie-eagle for his lowest final roundever, but Rory McIlroy was too far ahead. Then at Doral in the WGC Cadillac Championship, a throbbing left Achilles tendon forced him to withdraw on the 12th hole and put his season in doubt. Until Bay Hill.

However, this still isn’t the Tiger we knew, at least the Tiger we knew as a player. This isn’t Tiger 1.0, invincible, invulnerable, infallible. This is Tiger 2.0, still the mysterious person and still capable of brilliance, but now fragile, and to the golf world he once ruled, beatable. It’s the old Tiger, not the Tiger of old.

“For him to go back and win again, he’ll have to figure out that he’s a different person today than he was five years ago,” said Nicklaus at the Honda Classic. “I was a different person when I was 25 years old than when I was 35 years old. I had to learn how to play. I didn’t have the strength. I couldn’t overpower the golf course. I’ve got great respect for Tiger’s golf game, and I think he will be back.”

Woods has come back with a new coach and a new caddy. He switched from Hank Haney to Sean Foley in 2010 and last year he switched from his big-time looper Steve Williams to the very well respected Joe LaCava, for more than two decades the caddie for Fred Couples. Until the Achilles incident at Doral, Woods had also seemed to come back healthy, and for him, health is the most critical issue.

He’s had four knee surgeries dating back to 1994, and his Achilles issue stems from a rupture he suffered while jogging in December of 2008 while he was recovering from knee surgery following his one-legged win at the U.S. Open, his last major tournament victory. Woods missed a considerable stretch last year after pulling out of the Players Championship with a knee and Achilles problem after nine holes. It took him until the fall to go from rehabbing his body to rehabbing his game.

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