Saturday, January 20, 2018
Sports

Tiger Woods' mystery may soon be solved

He was No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings for a total of 683 weeks.

Current ranking for Tiger Woods? No. 486.

It's never just about doing the math with Tiger, though. It's doing the mystery.

The curtain to Tiger's world opened just a crack in the past few days with reporting, speculation and observation on the part of a couple of high-profile sources.

On Thursday, ESPN.com's Wright Thompson wrote a long and revealing feature called "The Secret History of Tiger Woods." It covered a lot of rocky ground, detailing his obsession with Navy Seals training and the military lifestyle, plus quotes from Michael Jordan saying he loves his friend too much to tell Tiger that he's not going to be great again.

Then, on Friday, Tim Rosaforte of Golf Digest and Golf Channel reported his PGA Tour return is getting close, perhaps as soon as early May at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C.

Is it mere coincidence that those two stories came out within a day of each other?

Hey, that's part of the fun, but it doesn't seem that much of a stretch to me to think that a widely read feature depicting Tiger as tired and haunted in his personal life and all but washed up in his professional life might be just the ticket to kick that famous competitive drive into high gear.

Going by his blog posts alone, Tiger said on March 11: "I'm working hard on my short game at my outdoor practice facility and on my indoor Full Swing golf simulator." By April 1, just before the Masters, his progress report had ramped up to, "I've been hitting balls and training daily."

Now comes a string of fresher reports from Rosaforte that Tiger has been very active at The Medalist the past few weeks, practicing for four or five hours at a stretch and playing an unspecified number of holes. Throw in a Thursday public appearance in South Carolina in which Tiger reportedly hit every club in the bag during a clinic for junior golfers and there are only two logical conclusions.

Tiger has either convinced himself that his recovery from two offseason microsurgical procedures on his back is almost complete, or else the long absence has put him in a mental frame where he cares less about all of that every day.

How much ground is there to make up? Well, he tied for 10th place in his last appearance, the Wyndham Championship in August, with a 64 and a 65 thrown in. No top-10 on tour could ever be described as just scraping it around.

The majors of 2015 were a bust, however, with missed cuts at the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship stopping the momentum of a tie for 17th at the Masters. Without the threat of winning a major and building on his career total of 14, Tiger is an entirely different cat.

The U.S. Open is in June at Oakmont, where Tiger finished second by a stroke to Angel Cabrera in 2007. Brutal conditions then, with only the winner shooting two sub-par rounds during the week, and it will be brutal again.

Tiger would have to hit a lot of those tight fairways and avoid the ankle-deep rough if he hopes to make the cut. If there's to be an attempt, it's time to find out if he's on track, by the May 12-15 Players Championship at least.

The British Open and the PGA could be later goals if Tiger's willing to be patient and prepare a little more before ducking back inside those yellow ropes. Don't see that happening.

The reason is that Tiger wants to be more than one of Davis Love III's vice captains at the Ryder Cup matches beginning Sept. 30. He wants to be an active player, having proven himself capable, and there's no mystery about that.

—Palm Beach Post (New York Times News Service)

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