The rise and fall of Tiger Woods remains the single most absorbing Greek tragedy/soap opera/sports graphic novel/cautionary tale of this decade. And it will remain in contention for Bewildering Sports Story of the Century right up until the Year 2100.
There have been a couple notable developments to the plot lately.
ESPN the Magazine recently came out with a psychoanalytical feature on Woods, a breathlessly long piece that I will attempt to summarize here: He was socially stunted by his father; he has a real bad G.I. Joe fixation; he screwed himself up by going off and trying to play special ops soldier (without the key element of actually risking life and limb for country); and he sometimes just wanted to curl up with his mistress and watch a good movie.
Having toured the squirrel’s nest between Woods’ ears, we now long for the simplicity of watching him attempt to play golf again.
The world’s 499th-ranked player – and trending downward – showed up earlier this week for the opening of the first course he designed in the U.S., near Houston. He even played five holes, the first time, he said, he has taken his game onto a course since last August and his latest series of back surgeries.
Afterward, Woods said of his game, “I’ve got to get stronger and I’ve got to get faster. I’m not hitting it very far right now. I still have a lot more to go in the tank as far and speed, which is great.”
Having already missed the Masters (for the second time in three years), Woods this week met the deadline to register for June’s U.S. Open. That’s not a guarantee that he’ll play; it only keeps alive the option.
One report, by the Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte, had Woods returning to tournament golf as early as next week at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, site of the Wells Fargo Championship. (He must commit by Friday).
Another possibility, the Players Championship, beginning May 12.
It’s all guesswork, really. His rehab from the latest physical setback is but another mystery atop a very high stack. Going from a video of hitting a 9-iron into a simulator, to five holes in Texas to grinding against a very stout field in Charlotte next week seems like a rather rapid and ill-conceived comeback. But only he really knows what’s going on behind the curtain.
Any return comes with the very real risk of injury to both his skeleton and his pride. For whenever he returns, Woods surely will continue playing in the dim light of his own shadow, of competing against a memory he can never beat.
He is 40 years old. He has but one top 10 finish in the last two years. He hasn’t won a tournament since August of 2013. Hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open.
His old instructor, Hank Haney, has become increasingly blunt about Woods’ game the further the two have drifted apart.
On his SiriusXM PGA Tour radio show recently, Haney said that Woods could not have been practicing enough recently to fix all the problems that existed in his game when last we saw him.
“There’s not a part of his game that wasn’t in need of some serious attention. And now you’ve sat out for six months and (then) you’re practicing four to five hours a day and people act like he’s just coming back and he’s just going to tear it up,” Haney said.
“I’m not saying he’s never going to play good again,” he added. “It’s just a tall task to get your game back when it has slipped to the level that it has slipped.”
A significant part of the sporting public has slid into indifference on the subject of a Tiger Woods comeback.
But I find myself caught between two strong and competing emotions: The desire to see the best player of our time competing again mixed with the dread that the player who returns will continue to be a sad, pale imitation of the original.