It seems that any and all talk about Tiger Woods has been focused on his image. The Monday press conference focused a lot on Tiger's past, with only a few questions tossed at him about his golf game. It's easy to forget that golf is the reason Tiger is here this week. He isn't trying to restore his image as much as he's trying to win a golf tournament, but is winning too farfetched?
Let us dig in.
In 2009, Tiger returned for the Accenture Match Play after knee surgery, a format that he has dominated in the past in an event has he won before. It was the perfect storm for him, because it allowed him to return to golf, without having to play four rounds. If he played well he'd continue, if not he would be ousted, but he'd still test the knee in a tournament setting.
Now, the difference in 2009 and now is this; all the focus of Tiger in '09 was dedicated to rehabilitation and golf. He was working with doctors and coaches and anyone that could help him get back to the course as quick as possible.
This event is not so much that. The last few months have been anything but golf related. Tiger has been working on his image, his marriage, his mental state, his desires and his soul. It has been anything but a range-packed four months, and Tiger has only recently been back on the course grinding it out.
You could see that going one of two ways. Either, his golf game will be too rusty to compete in a huge event like the Masters and he just won't have the game to do it, or his mind will be so clear for the first time in ages that his focus will be 100 percent on golf, and not who he will text or call when the event ends. You have to think that his lifestyle the last few years has affected his game, even if he doesn't see it as such.
The biggest thing in all this, however, is just how tournament golf works.
Luckily (unless you are my bank account), I got the opportunity to play some competitive, professional golf back in my days. It wasn't anything too special, but I was out there competing for rent money and, well, it's just different. The feeling is different, the pressures are different, the bad thoughts are different. It is almost impossible to describe, but standing on the first tee in an event that you must play well in just isn't the same as teeing it up in a practice round or a competitive 18 holes with friends.
I'm sure Tiger has tried to re-create situations over the last few weeks with friends, but that is night and day to what he'll feel on Thursday when the tournament actually begins.
Even for a guy like Tiger, who has spent his entire life in competitive atmospheres, this long layoff will make the first tee jitters all the more convulsive.
Another interesting note on Tiger at Augusta National. Woods came on strong here, winning in 1997 at just 21, and then taking three more with his last coming in 2005. But, as of late, Tiger hasn't been able to close, and still hasn't won a Masters in his 30s, the time when most players actually claim a green jacket.
That said, we have to remember that Tiger is the guy that did this here once, and the type of guy you can never, ever, ever, ever count out at any event. In 2008 he won the U.S. Open on one leg.
He has finished in the top-8 of every Masters he's played in as a professional but three, and in the top-25 in every single one as a pro. He isn't going to miss the cut. He isn't going to throw some sort of 77 at us.
The question will be with his short game, and if somehow the feel comes back sooner than later, having Tiger try on his fifth green jacket on Sunday afternoon isn't as crazy as one might think.
He might be a different man to us all now, but he is still Tiger Woods, and we all know what that means — expect the unexpected.