Tiger Woods’ comeback proves one thing - never write off legends

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Mar 11, 2018 01:31 PM IST

After Roger Federer’s resurgence, Tiger Woods keeps sporting world asking for more. The golf great is currently within striking distance of winning his first title since 2013

In a modern world where sporting mortality shadows young men and women as they push to the limit, three stalwarts are chasing new frontiers of longevity.

Tiger Woods moved within one stroke of leader Corey Conners after third round at the Valspar Championship.(USA Today Sports)
Tiger Woods moved within one stroke of leader Corey Conners after third round at the Valspar Championship.(USA Today Sports)

Roger Federer’s stunning comeback in 2017 has left every fan willing him to go on forever, while Serena Williams has just set out to become as a tennis super mom.

READ | Tiger Woods closes in on first win since 2013 at Valspar Championship

Tiger Woods too has set exalted standards across two decades, but proved all too human, brought to earth by injuries and the 2009 scandal that tore up his image as a perfect family man.

The golf legend is feeling the love big time again, the 14-time Major winner promising a sensational turnaround to a career experts and his legion of fans had given up as over.

The golf swing places enormous stress on the back and glute muscles, and Woods as the pioneer of the power era has borne the brunt of wear and tear. Four back surgeries since 2013, last year’s spinal fusion the most serious, seemed to have ended the career of the man who helped golf climb down from its lofty perch to become a global billion-dollar industry and fans.

However, the buzz is back again. On Friday, in only his fourth full-field event, the golf legend was anointed the comeback king in a matter of few hours as he briefly took the second round lead at the Valspar Open in Florida, leading in a PGA Tour event for the first time since 2015, after 930 days.

READ | Roger Federer the ‘complete player’ with number-one return: Rainer Schuettler

Tiger Mania took over with his tied-13 finish in the previous Honda Classic having already whetted the appetite with broadcaster CBS reporting best viewership for six years.

The high voltage Woods campaign hit the internet. The PGA Tour website’s live streaming app went down, unable to handle the traffic. Social media frenzy over chances of winning his first PGA Tour event since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational even predicted 2017 champion Sergio Garcia putting the green jacket on Tiger at next month’s Augusta Masters.

Tiger also has the third best odds of winning the Masters. At the Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course, organisers made arrangements for the crowds that has swamped the course, opening an extra gate and adding more mobile toilets. On Friday, even mobile connectivity fluctuated under pressure.

The Woods nostalgia comes nine years after his popularity crashed following revelations of cheating on his wife with multiple women. His arrest in May last year for driving under the influence suggested a great sportsman struggling to adjust to life from the limelight.

But he has remained very much the hero for his peers. Five-time Major-winner Phil Mickelson, 47, who won last week’s WGC Mexico Championship, paid tribute. “He’s always one-upped me,” he said in a TV interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he went out and won this weekend to one-up me again.”

READ | Serena Williams’ tennis comeback her greatest challenge, says coach

Roger Federer image as a role model has only gone up many notches. The ultimate feel-good story would have hardly been predicted when knee and back injuries in 2016 – the only year since 2001 he did not win a title – saw predictions a great tennis era was ending.

He was 34, and had not won a Slam since 2012 Wimbledon. The world watched with incredulity as the Swiss maestro made a great comeback at the Australian Open, outlasting his great Spanish rival Rafael Nadal in an epic final.

Federer, 36, has added three Majors since, and looks good to add to his 20. “You care about that moment, about the fans, and how they portray you. You care for the result; you care for so many things,” he said at Indian Wells this week.

Serena Williams at 36 is looking to emulate Federer. The rise of Serena and sister Venus battling racial prejudices has already been a great story beyond the tennis court. Her 2017 Australian Open win while being seven weeks pregnant with daughter Alexis, surviving pulmonary embolism after giving birth and making a comeback is seen as carrying a bigger message.

“As long as I’m moving forward, even if it’s at a turtle’s pace, I’m definitely okay with that,” she has said.

For cricket’s inspirational story, there is Don Bradman, whose career was interrupted for eight years due to World War II. The break, and his return at 38, didn’t dim his class. The greatest batsman, whose career average of 99.94 is beyond everyone, averaged an astounding 105.72 in his final 15 Tests from 1946-48.

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    N Ananthanarayanan has spent almost three decades with news agencies and newspapers, reporting domestic and international sport. He has a passion for writing on cricket and athletics.

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