Tiger’s Masters Nostalgia Tour

Tiger Woods has long been accustomed to owning the sports headlines on the day after the Arnold Palmer Invitational concludes. That PGA Tour event—which Woods has won eight times—wrapped on Sunday without its legendary namesake (who died in September) or the injured Woods, who in recent years has spent more time on the sidelines than Bill Belichick.

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Tiger in happier times, after his 12-stroke win in the 1997 Masters.

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Tiger’s Risky Comeback

There was a time when tournament appearances by Tiger Woods were theaters of high drama: the greatest golfer in history ruthlessly chasing down every record worthy of pursuit. But that was before chipping yips and back surgeries, before Achilles and ACL injuries, before personal scandal and swing woes, even before most folks had heard of Rory McIlroy. Or Barack Obama.

Woods returns to the PGA Tour this week 15 months after being sidelined by a pair of microdiscectomy procedures. His reappearance is cause for celebration but also for trepidation, since his more recent performances have veered between farce and tragedy.

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The winner of 14 majors had been scheduled to return at the Safeway Open in October, but just three days after committing to play, Woods withdrew. “After a lot of soul searching and honest reflection, I know that I am not yet ready to play,” he said. “My health is good, and I feel strong, but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be.”

Vulnerable?

For fans weaned on Tiger’s cutthroat aggression and indomitable self-belief, the admission of frailty stood out, as though his clubs were suddenly carved from kryptonite. His withdrawal was no routine acknowledgment of competitive rustiness. Golf’s Gretzky was sitting out because he was scared of slipping on the ice.

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Tiger Is Back, But Still Endangered

Thursday, October 6, 2016, marked 20 years since Tiger Woods first won a professional golf tournament in Las Vegas, a city that exists to provide former superstars with a comeback annuity. It also marked 410 days since Woods last struck a shot on the PGA Tour—not since the final round of the Wyndham Championship in August 2015, when he stumbled late in his bid for an 80th career win, which would have left him just two shy of Sam Snead’s record tally.

His tie for 10th that Sunday was the best finish of Woods’s year, but a few weeks later he underwent two back surgeries and retreated to rehab.

His eagerly awaited return comes at the Safeway Open in Napa, California, this Thursday, October 13, by which point 3,041 days will have passed since Woods won a tournament he really cared about (the 2008 United States Open, his 14th major title). Since then, he has been in a long, steady decline widely mistaken for a series of slumps and injury layoffs.

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An Old Master Fades Away

The Masters Tournament, the 80th edition of which begins Thursday in Augusta, Georgia, attracts the drive-by golf fans, those who tend toward an abridged, Augusta-centric version of history. In this CliffsNotes chronicle, Jack deposed Arnie in the ’60s and ruled until his epic Masters victory at age 46, 30 years ago.

Après Jack? A period of unremarkable parity until the Tiger era commenced.

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods will be at Augusta National this week for the Masters, but physical frailty—induced by age and injury—consigns all three to ceremonial cameos. That leaves the role of sentimental favorite to Tom Watson, who will make his 43rd and final Masters appearance. His farewell offers a timely reminder to casual fans that Nicklaus was himself overthrown by a young rival, one who has aged into the sport’s most durable and complicated icon.

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