Tiger Woods hasn't left the spotlight since storming onto the golf stage in 1996. It has been a winding road that has found former No. 1 ranked golfer in the world enjoying the highest of highs and the very lowest of lows.
The once corporate-product-slinging, awe-shucks, Leave it to Beaver family man, has been humbled in a way that no other professional golfer, or athlete for that matter, has in the past. No matter what Woods has done since crashing his SUV into a tree and slumbering in the middle of the road, it has been done under the microscope and dissected like a formaldehyde-wreaking pig in high school biology class.
The precision and grace with which the media has handled the past year of Woods' life is comparable to the skills of the young high school surgeon cutting into that pig. Poking, prodding, slicing... joking, laughing, pointing... and then the knife makes the first cut.
In this case, Woods put himself on that surgical table and made the first few cuts, while the speculating media searched and scoured the world for more ways to make sure those cuts went deeper and got to the route of the source.
And that's exactly how it should have gone down. If an athlete chooses to be so in the public eye, he or she cannot expect that public eye to close once their self-made, corporately-sculpted image starts to show true colors.
The story will never be closed on Woods. No matter how many columns and stories are written about his journey back to the top of the golf world, the truth of the matter is, there will always be angles to explore.
Can Woods flourish post-divorce? How will he tell his children? Now that he's free to roam, will Woods now return to form... or was the forbidden chase what drove him?
It's all fodder for our celebrity news starved culture. The proof in that is the fact that this column could have been published exactly one year ago, yet the relevance remains appropriate.
Since the accident, I have said I could care less about what dirty laundry aired because I was solely interested in Woods' life on the golf course. I didn't stop driving a Buick (I never had one). I didn't scold Gatorade for dropping him (I went and bought a bottle of Lemon-Lime). I didn't switch to Schick razors (Gillette is clearly more efficient). I didn't turn a blind eye to the coverage of his divorce (TMZ was frequently refreshed). And I didn't thumb my nose at Nike golf clubs when I went looking for a new set (They just didn't fit right).
What I did do was wait anxiously for his golf return - and I followed it even closer. That hasn't changed, and won't.
Woods has been cast as robotic. Does the game of golf not require proper robotic movements in the golf swing to avoid a slice or hook? Sure does. Which is why we love Tiger. He is robotic. The game requires it and we wish we could be that way at the local course. Woods said he was 'humbled' and wanted to become a different person. I said 'fine - just don't change on the golf course.'
Unfortunately, for one year, he did.
Yet, Woods continues to be on a golf pedestal in our mind. Fans don't truly want him to fall back down to earth. We liked where he was (check the TV ratings). In 2010, Woods played in four majors (12 events total), made 10 cuts, earned two top-10's, and held our attention through 45 rounds, or 810 holes. No wins. No commonplace dominance. None of it.
The one constant throughout Woods' career has been the fans attention. Golf fans have lived in holy matrimony with Woods, through thick and thin, in a way his real life marriage never could have - mistresses or not.
Tiger - hear me out.. it doesn't take Twitter and PR releases and fake interviews where you seem humble to get back in our good graces. The TV ratings should tell you that. All it takes is you on the golf course, week-in and week-out. Get there and we'll be there too.
For the second time this year, Woods is in the lead during a golf tournament. After shooting a 1st round 7-under, 65, Woods holds a 1-shot lead at the Chevron World Challenge over Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy. Throughout the round, Woods only missed two greens and was on for Eagle on four separate occasions.
His only downfall was his putter (shocking!!). "It's not too often you can say I shot 65 and only made one putt, but that's kind of what I did today," Woods said. "I only made one putt and it was on nine. The rest were either two-putts or kick-ins. It was a good ball-striking day."
As the host of the event, Woods needs to at least stay in the top-10 in order to not only appease the sponsor, but to close the year being competitive. That's the key to 2011: competition. Woods needs it; he loves it; it's in his blood.
There are plenty of notable names on the leaderboard besides Woods. In fact, with Woods being away for so many tournaments this year, he actually did the PGA Tour a favor. All the talent playing on the Tour (McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, McDowell, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, etc. etc.) has never been more recognizable.
The Tour can thank Woods for his slight reprieve, because now, more than ever, the unrecognizable names that used to follow 1. T. Woods 2. P. Mickelson, no longer look foreign to even casual golf fans.
That's the thing about Eldrick "Tiger" Woods... his impact is felt whether he's "playing" or not.