By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Tiger Woods has made a shrewd call, deciding to return to competitive golf at the Masters in April.
It is, first of all, a major tournament on a course Woods knows well and that--especially with the length that has been added to August National in recent years--suits his game. I have worked for the Masters tournament, and can attest that its fans are knowledgeable and polite, and venerate tradition. The Masters press corps is restricted, and elite, and respectful.
The doesn't mean that Tiger won't face tough questions about his six-month leave of absence and the mysteries that surround it--or that some good ol' boy won't howl a salacious insult at Woods, or that the tabloids won't be in full hunt, outside the gates. There will be plenty of distractions. But, more than any other golf tournament, the Masters will offer Tiger a controlled environment for his return.
That said, I doubt he will add another green jacket to his wardrobe. Not this year, maybe never. His winless record in last year's majors (and especially his loss at the PGA) shows where his head was at, even before the trauma of last fall and winter.
There is a chance that Woods could win his 15th major championship this summer--the U.S. Open is at Pebble Beach, the British Open at St. Andrews, two courses he loves and can dominate--but I would be stunned if he does. I'll be surprised if the Tiger we see at Augusta is not a mere shell of the player that so dominated the sport for more than a decade. I would not have said this last summer, or even in December, as the rumors were flying about his infidelities--but I think he's done.
It's clear now that Woods has suffered a major crack-up, as the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once called his own emotional collapse. Fitzgerald never recovered. And neither have superb golfers (Lee Trevino, John Daly, David Duval) who suffered awful injuries or life-changing domestic crises that crippled their confidence and their game.
Woods has faced both physical and emotional agony in the last two years. Even if there are no further revelations (have we heard the last of his performance-drug-dealing doctor?), I fear his story will end sadly, not in triumph.
Ben Hogan battled back from the crippling injuries of an automobile accident and won major golf tournaments, so you cannot count Tiger out. But then there is the competition--led by a generation of golfers in their 20s and their teens who are not in awe of Tiger Woods like some of his contemporaries. He is no longer the wunderkind--now other guys are.
Maybe Tiger has a switch inside his head that, when he picks up a golf club and walks to the first tee, puts all the other stuff aside. Maybe he is just one cold human being, oblivious to the mental baggage he's carrying. But I doubt it.
"The cracked plate has to be retained in the pantry," Fitzgerald wrote. "It can never again be warmed on the stove."