DAN BICKLEY

We should have seen Tiger Woods’ second comeback coming

Apr 6, 2022, 5:02 PM | Updated: Apr 7, 2022, 8:23 am
Tiger Woods walks on the 15th fairway during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament on We...

Tiger Woods walks on the 15th fairway during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament on Wednesday, April 6, 2022, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Tiger Woods already has a comeback story. His victory at the Masters in 2019 brought sports fans to the couch and golf fans to tears. He was 43 at the time, chasing one more moment in the sun, to show his children why their father was such a big deal. He was suddenly vulnerable and relatable, softened by perspective and hardship.

A second comeback story?

We should’ve known.

If Woods plays in the 2022 Masters, it will be a stunning development for a man lucky to survive a single-car accident in February 2021 that nearly destroyed one of his legs. He spent three months in a hospital bed. He has plates and screws and pins holding him together. At one point, he even gave something of a concession speech, acknowledging his career was likely over.

Now, the 2022 Masters is buzzing again with Woods’ indomitable presence. Few people dare doubt that he can actually win the tournament, which is the ultimate tribute to his legend, his legacy and our belief in the power of superstars.

Woods’ reemergence comes on the 25th anniversary of his groundbreaking Masters triumph in 1997, when he was a prodigy destroying a field of grown men, breaking the Masters’ scoring record at 18-under par. Even more staggering:

Unsettled at the start of the tournament, Woods shot 40 on the front nine of his opening round. He finished at 22-under for the next 63 holes. Tom Kite finished in second place, 12 strokes behind Woods. In football, that’s the equivalent of a 40-point loss.

“I won my tournament,” Kite famously said, admitting he and the rest of the field were no real competition for Woods.

Woods’ ability to compete at the Masters in 2022 will depend on his pain tolerance. Few athletes, if any, can best Woods in that category. Few superstars have shown greater physical toughness. He’s trained with elite military operations. He famously won the 2008 U.S. Open with two stress fractures in his leg and a torn ACL.

Many believe he was engineered to be a superstar golfer by his mom and dad, except the golf is secondary. He was groomed to be cutthroat, ruthless, laser-focused and impenetrable between the ears. Which makes him perfectly suited for the crushing psychological demands of rehab.

It’s been 25 years since Woods won his first Masters title. He has 15 major tournament victories; four knee surgeries; five back surgeries; a stint in rehab for an opioid addiction; endured the most humiliating public scandal in the history of sports; and survived a car accident that nearly took his life at 7:15 a.m. on a winding California road.

And here he is, back for more.

There’s a bigger question here that extends far beyond Augusta National: Namely, if Woods is good enough to play the Masters this week, is a limited return to action far behind?

It has been said that Woods does not play golf against people. He plays golf against history. And if Woods is playing in the Masters, that means he’s playing in the majors. That means he might still pass Jack Nicklaus, who set the bar at 18 majors.

Now that’s a comeback worth cheering for.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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We should have seen Tiger Woods’ second comeback coming