COMMENTARY | As the much-anticipated weekend of The British Open nears, there's a general consensus that Tiger Woods isn't officially back until he wins a major.
His well-publicized fall from grace that has made him the most polarizing athlete in the world has created a sports phenomenon that may come full circle on Sunday at The Open should he emerge victorious. First, he'll have plenty of work to do, and a difficult test ahead of him as he goes into the weekend just four shots back of 36-hole leader Brandt Snedeker.
Woods has done everything he's needed to do through two rounds to put himself in position to take home the Claret Jug. There's a lot more golf to be played, and Woods knows it. He was consciously pacing himself all day long, playing a conservative, strategic game and putting himself into position to make a weekend charge.
That will be a tall order due to the stellar play of the two players that sit atop Woods and the rest of the field on the leaderboard. Snedeker and Adam Scott have separated themselves from the competition and find themselves at 10-under and 9-under, respectively, for the championship.
The advantage for his fans is that Woods has been here before, and has history on his side. He's won seven out of eight majors when he's posted two opening rounds in the 60s. However, the golf world is in uncharted territory when it comes to Tiger, and there are no guarantees anymore with respect to the former world No. 1.
Then again, there never really were. Majors are that difficult to win.
Woods has put on a display of absolute greatness and dominance over the course of his legendary career. It's that lofty expectation that has his supporters yearning for another major victory in dominant fashion. Tournament fields are now deeper, and it's more difficult than it ever has been to win on golf's greatest of stages. The talent gap has narrowed tremendously over the last decade, and Woods has himself to thank for that.
Young PGA TOUR players now understand that they must be physically fit in order to compete. They appreciate mental toughness and have psychologists dedicated toward making them strong enough in the mind to put up with the rigors of tournament golf. Woods had that in his father, who trained and drilled a young Tiger on the very subject, and that foresight has served the younger Woods well.
Perhaps what we're seeing in golf isn't so much Tiger being back -- admittedly, he did have to climb out of an awful hole -- but it could be that the rest of the pack has caught up to him.
Snedeker had a hard lesson in mental toughness when he faced an epic disappointment after blowing a shot at winning The 2008 Masters. Scott has a carbon copy of Woods' swing from when he had the most dominant stretch that golf has ever seen by anyone in the early '00s.
These players and others understand what it takes to be great -- be like Tiger. Hopefully for Woods' sake, he can remember what that feels like this weekend.
Michael C. Jones is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor in Sports and covers the PGA TOUR. He has written for Southern California's Press-Enterprise and Examiner.com among other outlets in print and across the web. For more insight, you can follow him on Twitter.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tiger Woods
- Brandt Snedeker