2012′s Big Questions: Is this finally the year Tiger returns to form?

Shane Bacon

We're just days (day!) away from the first swings of the 2012 PGA Tour season, and so it's time to get in our last-minute predictions, guesses, estimates and prognostications. We continue with a look at Tiger Woods, and what might we get from the 36-year-old.

It used to be easy to predict what Tiger Woods might do. If he was leading he'd win. If he was trailing he would probably lose, and if he was hitting the ball like only Tiger seemed to hit it, everyone else in the field was playing for a nice, but humbling, second-place paycheck.

But these days, predicting Tiger has become very, well, golf-y. This game isn't supposed to be predictable. The moment we think we have figured it out, our swings disappear, or Michael Campbell wins the U.S. Open, and we are back to the drawing board. Birdies are sometimes followed by double-bogeys, and triple-bogeys followed by a nice, simple par.

But the question remains, did the Chevron win for Tiger, over just 17 other professionals, mean that 2012 was the year he would finally return to the form we were used to seeing?

I think it is. Tiger might have only beat a handful of golfers at his event in early December, but winning is the key word in every sentence about that tournament. He won. That is enough. And he didn't just win by default. Tiger was forced to pull off great shots and clutch putts like he did in the past to get back to the trophy ceremony. It was a monumental win for Tiger, even if it wasn't really that big of a deal for the rest of us. "Oh, Tiger won a Silly Season event, big deal," some might think, but it was bigger than that. Tiger put himself in a position to cash in, did so, and will be carrying that momentum into this season.

So that brings us to the next question. In 2012, what is a good season for Tiger? A good season used to be double-digit wins and a couple of majors, but we must be realistic these days. Those unfathomable years are through, and Tiger's approach must be different. If Tiger could win three PGA Tour events this season, I think it would be an enormous year (remember, not a single player on the PGA Tour won three times in 2011). I think he will have a shot, just like last season, at Augusta, if he continues on the path he's on, and I'd really like to see him claim a major, but that doesn't define a great season for Tiger anymore. It's baby steps for Woods right now, and if he could snag an early season event, and build on that momentum (Pebble Beach, anyone?), I think we'd really be talking about the start of a career mulligan for Tiger.

This game is fickle, and Tiger had never felt that before up until 2009. Now, he is trying to figure out how to get past it. If Tiger wins only once in 2012, I think people will stop thinking about a comeback. Lucky for him, we see a bigger year, and as he continues to get more and more healthy, I think the golf swing will return, the swagger will as well, and we might see his name near the lead come Sunday afternoon as the red Nike shirts remind us just how great this guy used to be.

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