Roaring Back: Tiger’s return to the top

a/Behind the Bench/Sports by

Everything seems to be going well for Tiger Woods these days: he and President Obama enjoyed a game of golf in February, and he recently announced his relationship with Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn (ugh). However, it got even better when Woods sank his final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and won the tournament by two strokes. The win is his 77th on the PGA Tour and third in the 2013 season. However, it served an even greater importance, as the win sent him right back to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking for the 11th time in his career—a spot he once held for 623 weeks and lost in October 2010. After his infidelities became public in November 2009, Woods took an extended break, and his rankings dropped down to as low as number 58 in November 2011. His trophy drought finally ended last year, when he won his first tournament—again the Arnold Palmer Invitational—since the scandal. His ascension to the top spot can only mean one thing: Tiger is back.

There is much speculation on what Woods’ return means to fans and golfers alike. It’s obvious that fans love watching him play; in mid 2008, when he underwent knee surgery and took a leave from the tour, TV ratings for the remainder of the season suffered a significant decline. He consistently draws large crowds at whichever course he plays, and is always coveted by tournament organizers.

There is also much discussion on what Woods’ return means for the tour. His reputation precedes him, as he can easily intimidate many players. An economist at the University of California actually found that golfers played worse when competing against Woods, compared to when he was not in the tournament. When Woods was on top of his game before the scandal, many players found it hard to compete with him, because fans’ attentions were often directed at him and his seemingly effortless play. Other stars, like Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson, have emerged in Woods’ downswing.

The old days may be upon us again, as many analysts believe that this is the beginning of another historic run for the highly talented golfer. Woods’ win last week provided him with something he hasn’t had since the scandal—confidence leading into the Masters, the first, and arguably most illustrious major of the season, which starts next week. Woods, a 14-time major winner, and four-time Masters champion, has not won a major tournament since the U.S. Open in 2008, and is the favourite for this year’s Masters.

Nike, Woods’ longtime sponsor, quickly rolled out an ad after Woods reclaimed the number one ranking, proclaiming, in Woods’ own words that “winning takes care of everything.” This ad was immediately controversial, as it seemingly implies Woods’ past mistakes—which cost him his family and affected his play—are wiped away with regained success. However, the quote was taken out of context, since Woods only commented after he was asked about his game and his opposition last year; “everything” likely referred to the world rankings.

Woods’ putting has been exceptional lately, and it will be interesting to see whether he can carry his momentum to glory next week in Augusta. His success is in his hands. The way we perceive him however, is in our hands and will always be up for debate, whether he’s on top of the golfing world or not.