USA TODAY Sports Images

Liguori: Tiger Woods Achieves A Most Improbable Comeback

Ann Liguori
September 24, 2018 - 1:34 pm
Categories: 

Paris: It was not quite a year ago that Tiger Woods uttered something at a Presidents Cup press conference (Sept 28-Oct. 1, 2017, Liberty National, NJ) that was surprising to hear, coming from him directly. I’m quite sure he took many media members, including me, by surprise, at least the ones who were listening carefully, as he suddenly shared something that he hadn’t said up to that point and that was that he might never play golf again.

It struck me as a shocker then for several reasons. One, the way the words rolled off his tongue came so sudden and unexpected. Prior to this moment, Tiger rarely, if ever, gave up any information unless it was written on his website, and particularly a thought as significant as whether he’d ever play again.

It was the first time I’d ever heard him say anything about his future status as it pertained to playing competitively again. But as I observed him both at that Presidents Cup and at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine where he also served as an Assistant Captain, you got the feeling that he really enjoyed the camaraderie of connecting with the players, especially the guys who expressed that his career inspired them so, he’s the reason they are playing. He had expressed that frequently.  But on the other hand, he didn’t have that joyful look about him. You could tell he really wanted to be playing. Sometimes I even observed a look of anguish about him.

After four back procedures, painful and unsuccessful attempted comebacks, over-the-top upheaval in his personal life, a DUI after being found passed out in his banged-up car, a stint in rehab, who would have thought, less than a year ago, that he’d still be standing, let alone winning golf tournaments?

Fast forward a few months later, and the miraculous comeback had begun. He was playing for the first time in a long time with no pain. He had gotten the ‘all clear’ from his Doctor, after the spinal fusion procedure.

But just because he was Tiger Woods and the pain was gone and he could return to the sport he dominated didn’t mean that he would be successful. It had been ten years since he won his 14th Major Championship. It had been five years since he won his last tournament – the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational

There had to have been so many questions and doubts.

Could he swing without pain? How hard could he swing? What if he had to hit out of a tricky, uneven lie? Would that throw his back out? How much could his newly-fused spine and back take?

Could he play without worrying about all the above? Could he ever get back to the level of play that was anywhere near what he used to be? How long could he continue to push forward if he wasn’t making the progress he had hoped? After all, he’s Tiger Woods! Could he beat the young players out there who he knew grew up idolizing him? Could he even make a cut? What if he just couldn’t put all aspects of his swing and game back together? How long would it take him to get match-tough again?

Many experts in golf said he was done. Finished! Forget about winning another title. How many people thought he would ever play competitively again?

Sunday’s victory at the Tour Championship was a most fitting ending to the comeback year. A storybook ending for sure.

Not only did he strike the ball like the Tiger of ol’, but he exhibited the focus, the calm, the demeanor of the champion of ol’. At 11 under, with rounds of 65-68-65-71, Tiger won by two. It was his 80th PGA TOUR title, second-most behind Sam Snead who won 82 of them.

And it took only 18 starts during this comeback season for him to close one out. He was so close at both the Open Championship and the PGA Championship. You knew it was just a matter of time the way he was improving and tweaking each week. And how appropriate that it was at the final event on the year’s calendar, the Tour Championship, the culmination, days before the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National begins.

It was the underdog’s ultimate vindication.

And in addition to his comeback on the course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about what seems like a total transformation with his personality, off the course. Tiger changed before our very eyes -- from being a most private, very serious, very closed-off, unfriendly, inaccessible to fans-kind-of- guy to a smiling, friendly, gracious, appreciative, joyful, autograph signing, fan-friendly champion. The metamorphosis has been something to watch. Quite remarkable.

Credit what he may have learned in rehab. Credit wanting to be a good Dad and the hunger to show his kids what winning looks and feels like. Credit his support team. Credit his medical team. Credit his work ethic and belief in himself. Credit an older, more mature, wiser Tiger. Credit all these reasons that contributed to his fairytale comeback.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.