The Return of Tiger Woods

The outer appearance of the Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain is vast, beautiful and uninhibited. Last week at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, it served as an appropriate site for the return of perhaps the world’s greatest athlete, whose swing complements the course’s outdoor landscape.

On his first tee shot from the fairway’s first hole, Tiger Woods brought his club back, swung hard through the ball at the point of contact and watched it sail into the afternoon sky. Just eight months ago, that same motion left Woods bending over at the waist writhing in agony; his facial expressions reduced to a degree of horror rather than awe that usually followed just another clean drive off of the face of his three-wood.

But on this swing, unlike during his epic victory last June at Torrey Pines, Woods stood tall at the finish. He proceeded to process down the green for his second shot with a calm stride and an inelastic focus as if he had not missed the game of golf as desperately as it had missed him. He then took out his iron, sized up his next shot, and did it again.

This was the iconic image that has been missing from the sports world since last summer while Woods has been recuperating from surgery that repaired the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in his left leg. With each and every swing, nothing less than the weight of the game and the future of a long-ago-established brilliant career rests on Woods’ reconstructed knee.

And yet, with the steroid epidemic prevalent in Major League Baseball, the financial troubles of the NBA and the economic recession having a profound impact on professional sports, sports fans seem to be crying out for his presence. The world is already akin to the fact that Woods is a phenomenal athlete with seemingly supernatural ability, but his return to the green in an uncharacteristic and afflicted industry blurs the distinction between golfer and savior.

There is no better time for Woods’ return then now. Golf’s reliance on corporate sponsorship has become more risky considering a decrease in television ratings and spectators’ shallow pockets. Even after football season and prior to college basketball’s post-season – golf’s peak season – the game has had trouble drawing fans. Until now. Tiger’s appearance back on the PGA Tour and on the course in general – even at practice – is sure to bring fans back out to witness the sport’s biggest attraction. Furthermore, the Tour’s network television contract is set to expire in 2012, but worry has suddenly vanished with Tiger’s presence and they are undoubtedly vying for renewal. Woods is also the selling point behind a bid to include golf in the 2016 Olympics. And yet, all of this comes at a time when Woods is on the verge of tying Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major victories.

The time is now. Here he is. A one-act, walking stimulus package that is just what sports needs right now. Last June, Tiger proved what he could do even without one good leg. But with the arrival of spring, and the return of a familiar face, this year’s golf season begins anew. Now let’s see what he can do with two good legs. As a testament to the man’s talent as much as his tenacity, the chances are his performance won’t be much different than what we’ve seen before the injury. And that is just what sets him apart as a larger-than-life athlete in his prime. Even with eight months off, Tiger is still Tiger. And he’s as good as new.

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