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Hubbard: Now the Eye of the Tiger Could be on an Olympic Prize

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Tiger Woods hits from the third tee during the final round of the Tour Championship golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Atlanta. Photo: John Amis | AP

By Alan Hubbard |

The timely comeback of Tiger Woods may rank as surely the most remarkable resurrection since Lazarus.

His sublime victory in the Tour Championship in East Lake, Atlanta – the first time he has collected a trophy in five years – has been labeled the most meaningful in a career which literally car-crashed and sent him from hero to zero overnight.

Timely, too, with the impending Ryder Cup confrontation between Europe and the United States in Paris this weekend, in which he could play a crucial role.

Of the many and various contractions in sport the most misused adage is that they never come back. Tiger’s return to greatness at 42 may well reign supreme among them.

Resurrection, restoration, rehabilitation…call it what you will. But the fact that a rampant Tiger is out of the rough and back on the prowl borders on the miraculous.

Here is a man who after a multi major-winning earlier career, including three Open Championships, suffered great physical hurt and total humiliation with the collapse of his health and public dissection of his private life.

Much of the latter has been self-inflicted, of course. But to his credit Woods has never sought anyone’s sympathy.

At one time his body was so wrecked that he struggled to bend down to pick his ball up.

The greatest player of all time was fearful of even sitting in a golf cart to watch others play the President’s Cup, because the bumps gave him so much back pain.

Yet there he was on Sunday (September 23) in Atlanta, back from the dead and coming down the 18th fairway like a modern-day Pied Piper about to win the Tour Championship with an adoring cast of thousands stampeding in his wake.

As I said, at times Woods’ life has been a literal, and virtual, car crash, notably his love life.

Two car crashes in fact. The first destroyed his carefully manufactured image and his marriage and the second showed the presence in his bloodstream of two painkillers – a sleeping pill, an anti-anxiety drug and the active ingredient in marijuana.

There was a gap of 1,876 days since his last win and at one stage he was 1,199th in the world. Four operations on his back, the last a spinal fusion. Struggling to get out of bed unaided, hoping only to recover enough to be able to play with his kids.

Woods was washed up. Or so it seemed. He lost his mojo, his aura. His sponsors, his grip on the game and much of his hair. He admitted he needed therapy for his sex addiction as well as his shot-to-pieces golfing technique.

Yet these past few months have seen him gradually being born again.

While last weekend’s win was his biggest and most important in a decade, the PGA’s Tour Championship is not a major. Such was its significance, however, that it can be compared in golf to that of Jack Nicklaus winning the 1986 Masters aged 46, 24 years after his first major and six years since his last, and also that of Ben Hogan, who won six of his nine majors after the car crash in 1949 that doctors feared might mean he never walked again.

Outside golf, among other legendary sporting comebacks there is that of Muhammad Ali dismantling George Foreman and regain the world heavyweight title at 32 in Zaire’s unforgettable Rumble in the Jungle, and the 1993 comeback of Canadian ice hockey icon Mario Lemieux, diagnosed mid-season with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins the day his radiation treatment ended and finishing that season by winning another National Hockey League scoring title.

Monica Seles was an eight-time Grand Slam champion and the top-ranked player in the world in April 1993 when she was stabbed in the back during a changeover at a tournament in Hamburg, Germany. The attack left deep psychological scars, and it would be more than two years before Seles would play again.

A month after her return, Seles reached the final of the 1995 US Open but lost to Steffi Graf. In January, Seles won the 1996 Australian Open, her ninth major title.

Michael Jordan retired after the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat (three consecutive NBA championships) sitting out most of the next two seasons. He returned in March 1995 and dragged the Bulls to the Eastern Conference semi-finals, where they would lose in six games to the Orlando Magic.

Jordan played all 82 games and led the NBA in scoring each of the next three seasons, as the Bulls set a then-record for wins (72 in 1995-96) and completed their second three-peat.

Then there was baseball superstar Ted Williams, who missed the 1943, 1944 and 1945 seasons while serving in the Navy during World War II. When he returned to the Red Sox in 1946, he hit what was then a career-high 38 home runs and won the first of his two American League Most Valuable Player awards.

Williams also missed most of the 1952 and ’53 seasons because of the Korean War. He returned to play another seven seasons, and was the AL’s batting leader in two of them.

I suppose you could throw in sprinter Justin Gatlin, who was Olympic 100 metres champion in 2004, then was twice banned after two failed drugs tests but returned to thwart the golden finale of Usain Bolt at last year’s World Championships. Personally I would not give that particular comeback houseroom.

Golf writers say that to observe Tiger over the past eight months has been to see a man gradually come back to life. To see him hold off 18 of the best 20 golfers in the world at East Lake was something closer to witnessing a rebirth.

He was achieving the impossible dream.

In the past few months, Woods has now finished second at the US PGA Championship and shared the lead at The Open in the final round. Perhaps the most remarkable statistic of all is that in 2018 he has taken part in 18 tournaments, so this was no one-off.

Let’s hope that there is now no holding this Tiger.

Incidentally, because of his various peccadilloes and physical malaise the greatest golfer ever to sink a putt missed out on his sport’s elevation to Olympic status.

So it should not surprise us if the eye of the Tiger is set firmly on Tokyo 2020 and Olympic gold.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz

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