x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

As ferocious as one of his drives, Tiger Woods career swings back to golf's pinnacle

In more ways than one, Tiger Woods has come full circle, returning from his personal abyss to the top spot in the world golf rankings with a trademark victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, capping a comeback that most could not have envisioned. Steve Elling comments.

Tiger Woods returned to the top of the world golf rankings with his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida.
Tiger Woods returned to the top of the world golf rankings with his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida.

It began with one fateful crash and seems to have ended with another.

Indeed, in more ways than one, Tiger Woods has come full circle.

Returning from his personal abyss of three-and-a-half years ago, Woods reclaimed the top spot in the world rankings with a trademark victory on Monday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida, capping a comeback that most could not have envisioned.

In fact, people needed to see the proof for themselves.

At around 10pm in the UAE, just as the tournament was finishing in Florida, the website for the Official World Golf Rankling crashed, and there is a highly plausible working theory as to what precipitated it.

Millions of sports fans, at work on Monday and tracking the news of the improbable return of Woods to the top spot for the first time since October 2010, apparently overwhelmed the website. Because rain pushed the tournament's final round to Monday, seemingly half the world was at work - with access to a computer - as Woods was finishing his return to the pinnacle of the sport.

A few keystrokes, on a global scale, and you have a crash that was as metaphorical as an Escalade, a fire hydrant, oak tree and an ambulance, which is how the dethroning began in the autumn of 2009.

If anybody needed a reminder, Woods remains a veritable global lightning rod, with millions pulling for and against him, and the website crash served to reinforce it.

Asked Tuesday whether the Monday finish and the popularity of Woods had anything to do with the crash, Ian Barker, who runs the ranking website in London, said: "We suspect there may be a link."

We suspect the sun will rise in the east Thursday, too - although many believed it had long since set on the best years of Woods's career.

No question, in a career filled with eye-popping achievements, his climb back from disgrace ranks among the most implausible of all.

At the risk of sounding like the lyrics to an REM pop song, the litany of train wrecks in his recent past is nothing short of incredible, if not indelible. But for those who have forgotten the mire from which Woods has just emerged, here is the short version.

He lost millions in endorsements, lost his wife and paid US$100 million (Dh367m) in a divorce settlement.

His swing coach, Hank Haney, quit, then wrote a tell-almost-all book that was a No 1 bestseller.

His caddie was fired.

He hurt his Achilles tendon, his neck and knee at various points, and missed two majors.

Two popular talk-show hosts in the US, Jay Leno and George Lopez, milked the career debacle as monologue fodder for months.

Interestingly, Woods outlasted them both - Lopez's show was cancelled and Leno is getting the axe, too. In stand-up circles, this would be termed getting the last laugh.

The details of his extramarital affairs were lurid. Two recording artists, including the rap star Ludacris, penned songs about the most catastrophic fall from grace in golf history.

He spent weeks in rehabilitation, then in seclusion. Corporate sponsors ditched him. A parade of women sold their personal stories to the highest tabloid bidders.

The bottom of the barrel was, instead, a bottomless pit.

Even when he returned, his play was marked by withdrawals, missed cuts and abysmal results in certain locales, like Firestone Country Club, where he often won as easily as lacing up his spikes. He dropped out of the world top 50 for the first time in 15 years.

Chastened and embarrassed, his confidence shot, he hired a new swing coach and began remaking his game for a third time.

For 30 months, he did not win an official tournament, until he broke through 53 weeks ago at the same Bay Hill locale where he climbed back to No 1 on Monday.

Two weeks earlier, he had walked off the course in Miami, complaining of yet another injury sustained while hitting balls on the practice range, his die seemed cast. If a guy cannot play a zero-impact game without injuring himself, how could he possibly attain any sense of longevity?

This all was not just water under the bridge, it was the Mississippi River Delta - and just as swirling, dark and foreboding.

Only the truest believers envisioned any scenario wherein Woods would reclaim the No 1 spot he has now held for - get this - exactly 12 years. Especially given the way Rory McIlroy, who won five times last season before being supplanted at No 1 this week by Woods, was playing.

Still, there were a few folks who believed Woods still had some tread left on those damaged wheels. In the fall of an injury-plagued 2011, he showed up at the third-tier Frys.com Open in California with a new caddie in tow.

Joe LaCava had quit as the looper for rising star Dustin Johnson, the most successful 20-something on the PGA Tour, to work for Woods.

It seemed an iffy career decision, given that Woods had not seriously contended in months and was clearly damaged goods by any sense of the definition. Cornered behind the 18th green after a practice round, the amiable LaCava sat Woods's bag at his feet and chatted about the perceived state of his own sanity.

He was bluntly asked whether he had any second thoughts.

"None," he said, unblinkingly.

Given the career events of the past few months, then, well, uh, why not?

"Because he's Tiger Woods," LaCava said.

If we had forgotten, we've been reminded anew.



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