Watching him at the Masters this week, there was the realization that this may be all the Tiger Woods we are going to get.
Eight years from eligibility for the senior tour, he may have become a guy who pops up on the leaderboard from time to time with a run of birdies — like his mini flurry Saturday. Maybe he will catch fire and win a tournament like Bay Hill, which is basically his back yard.
But not a steady, consistent major contender.
Certainly his comeback is a compelling narrative. As he has said, six months ago he didn’t know if he would be able to play golf again. Not professionally, or majors, just golf.
The transcendent player of his era, he suffered a terrible, debilitating back injury. Gamely, he tried to play, but the pain was so searing that he would literally drop to his knees after a difficult swing.
And for the genteel sport of golf, the public meltdown of his personal life was stunning. The lurid details of his wife, Elin Nordegren, chasing him out of their house with a golf club when she confirmed he was cheating on her is National Enquirer stuff. That night Woods famously crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant, which gave Nordegren the opportunity to catch up and smash the car windows.
The divorce, expensive and embarrassing, was bad enough. But then, still battling the back issues, he was busted for DUI last May. The story was he’d misjudged his pain meds, but the mix of five drugs in his system, and a disheveled, dazed booking photo made it seem he was at a dead end.
But he rallied. He went to rehab and underwent a fourth back surgery, finally getting relief with a spinal fusion. He returned to golf and played well enough to get a couple of top-10 finishes. It has been a remarkable comeback.
But that’s not what people want. The swarms who follow Woods are waiting for Tiger magic. They want those charges to the front of the field. Some betting lines even had Woods at a pre-Masters favorite.
The TV networks fell over themselves in Tiger-mania. When he was hot, the TV ratings were in the NFL stratosphere. Commentators were just short of openly rooting for Woods, remarking on his “confident walk” and laser focus.
Could it happen? Sure. And it would be a phenomenal story. After all, Jack Nicklaus won his last Masters at the age of 46.
But it isn’t likely. Nicklaus won later in life, but it was such a stunning, unexpected moment that it is on everyone’s top-five list. At this point, a Tiger win would be a miracle.
Folks will say he is just rusty, but he is more than that. Woods hit the ball into the creek, the bushes and the spectators. He flew it over greens, couldn’t make a big putt and never managed a sub-par round for the first three days, finishing at 4-over.
It isn’t just that he is more than 10 shots behind the leader. There are well over 30 golfers ahead of him. Even the most optimistic Tiger-rooters know he can’t pass all of them.