Tiger's back. Sort of. . . Why we can't take our eyes off Tiger Woods

Tiger is back. Sort of.

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There’s this guy who looks like an older version of the guy who was a lock to become the greatest golfer of all-time, until injuries and personal mayhem brought him back to earth.

Those who follow golf closely, and many who don’t, watched in fascination Thursday and Friday as Tiger Woods tentatively launched yet another comeback. This one is at Torrey Pines, the scene of so many Tiger triumphs, including the 2008 U.S. Open, when he won his 14th major on one healthy leg, defeating Rocco Mediate in a playoff.

Tiger was 32 then, and destined to romp past Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major wins.

What happened instead was a string of injuries, and a public humiliation involving a tawdry sex life that tested the will of spectators who admired Woods’ golf wizardry.

What we have now is a 42-year-old Tiger Woods who is a fallen legend trying to get back on the pedestal. And it, once again, is fascinating.

We all have our opinions about Tiger and his game.

I do not expect him to win another major, or even another important tournament. Maybe not any tournament. The new generation(s) of golfers are so talented, and so focused that, at this point, a big win by a 40-something like Tiger or Phil Mickelson would be a wonderful curiosity, like the close-but-no-cigar runs made by elder statesmen Tom Watson and Greg Norman at British Opens.

I believe Tiger’s mindset is as much an obstacle to winning again as the injuries and the aging. He has always played golf with a football-like urgency. I wonder if he can find the patience and inner peace he’ll need to be a champion again.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

That’s one of the many reasons I want to see how Tiger does.

Some of my purist golf friends don’t like all the attention Tiger gets, even when he’s barely making the cut. They think Tiger’s attention comes at the expense of other players.

I say those purists don’t get it.

I used to see their point. And then I realized that every time I covered a tournament where Tiger was playing, I was walking with him. Leading or trailing, I wanted to see how it would go.

We want to watch Tiger because. . . he’s such compelling drama. He transcends sport.

I remember seeing an aging Frank Sinatra sing at a summer festival in Chicago. One of the music critics chided him for missing notes.

I also remember laughing about that with Mike Royko. As a columnist, Royko had feuded in print with Frank Sinatra. But when it came to singing, there was no debate. We were thrilled to have a glimpse of Frank Sinatra. Missed note or not, it was Frank effing Sinatra.

That’s kind of the way people ought to feel about Tiger.

Between his unparalleled golf excellence, his crushing injuries and his shocking personal life, he is a true living legend.

He’s a sports version of Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, someone who combines professional greatness with personal tragedy.

The first time I was around Tiger was in September of 1996.

He had just turned pro. He was trying to win enough money to earn a tour card for 1997. So he was playing in the Quad Cities Open.

He got hot, and because Illinois was playing a late-night football game at Arizona, my sports editor sent me off to Oakwood Country Club in Coal City, Illinois.

On Saturday, Tiger played his way into the final Sunday pairing with a little journeyman named Ed Fiore.

After the Saturday round, I sat in on a little chat with a couple of other writers and Tiger’s father, Earl.

At one point, Earl said, ``Tiger has been preparing to win the Masters since he was 3 years old.’’

Something about that struck me as so outrageous, or ridiculous—Earl was dead-serious—that I started to get the giggles, and I had to bolt away from that conversation.

But as I look back on it, that’s how single-mindedly Tiger has approached life.

It obviously has worked for him in many ways.

Tiger lost to Ed Fiore at Quad Cities the next day. But he won the Masters the next spring. It was the first of 14 major wins in 12 years. That, and his amazing 79 career wins, put him in the discussion for greatest golfer of all-time.

It’s no wonder the whole golfing world wants to see if he can ever add an 80th win.

But the story of how he got here is as important as what he has achieved.

A legend. An iconic hero. A fallen legend and disgraced hero. An aging warrior on the comeback trail.

And somewhere in there, there’s a guy swinging a golf club.[/membership]