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Naysayers beware, because a Tiger never loses its stripes

By CHUAH CHOO CHIANG | China Daily | Updated: 2021-12-15 09:15
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Tiger Woods, pictured at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Dec 5, will play with his son Charlie at this week's PNC Championship in Orlando, Florida. AFP

As turning 46 looms, Tiger Woods says he is at peace with himself.

Seemingly accepting that he will no longer be the athlete he once was, some observers might mistakenly assume that he is resigned to never being able to match Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories or secure a historic 83rd PGA Tour triumph.

This new-found inner peace could also mean Woods is happy at just being Dad to his kids, Charlie and Sam, instead of working through another painful recovery process to overcome his latest fight with injuries, sustained in a horrific car accident in February.

Since bursting onto the scene as the youngest Masters champion in 1997, Woods has transcended the sport like no other before him. He was athletic, he could miraculously coax a golf ball into the hole, and he had a swagger and an aura that only a selected few exude.

He also changed the face of golf thanks to his multicultural family, coining the term 'Cablinasion' to describe his African-American and Asian heritage. He made golf cool, paving the way for a global boom in the sport.

As a gym rat and fitness junkie, he also transformed how a generation of golfers prepare themselves for the game. And while the raw power and athleticism he generated thrilled his army of fans, it came with a hefty price as he suffered multiple injuries.

And for someone who has undergone five surgeries on his left knee and another five on his back, some career threatening, the Big Cat has shown he has more than the proverbial nine lives by mounting comeback after comeback to cement his stature as a global sports icon.

Following spinal fusion surgery in 2017 to alleviate debilitating back pain, his detractors predicted Woods' career was done. However, after months of rehab, he was back on the prowl and ended up winning the FedExCup Playoffs Finale, the Tour Championship in 2018.

Six months later, he ended an 11-year wait for a 15th major trophy by winning the 2019 Masters, with his family beaming with pride greenside at the 18th hole.

He then equaled Sam Snead's long-standing record of 82 PGA Tour titles by winning the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan, and capped a magical year by inspiring the US Team as playing captain to a stunning come-from-behind victory in the Presidents Cup over the Internationals at Royal Melbourne.

From being on top of the hill, Woods tumbled out of public sight after his car crash and some nine months later appeared in a short video clip on his Twitter account that showed him hitting iron shots, accompanied by the caption "Making progress".

"I'm lucky to be alive but also to still have the limb," Woods said during a news conference at the Hero World Challenge, which he hosts as a charity fundraiser.

"Those are two crucial things. It's been tough at times, yes, some dark moments, but then again, as I was making progress through it too, I could see some light and that was giving me hope.

"I'm able to participate more with my kids and their activities and more just in life in general. I'm on the positive side."

With a rod inserted into his right tibia, which suffered multiple fractures, and screws and pins in his right foot and ankle, Woods needed a cast, a boot and then a sleeve to assist in his latest recovery. He was in hospital for three weeks and was confined to a bed at his home in Jupiter, Florida for another three months before taking baby steps toward resuming a normal life. He described the recovery as the most painful he's had to endure.

For many athletes, this would have been enough reason to call it a day.

Fans and fellow competitors are desperate to see Woods produce one final hurrah on the PGA Tour, and for a golfer who has produced his share of comebacks, we certainly should never say never about the greatest of all time.

Heading into 2022, Woods hopes to emulate Ben Hogan, who also suffered a similar life-threatening car accident at the age of 36, and subsequently played a limited number of events. Hogan went on to win 11 more times on the tour, including six majors.

"I don't foresee this leg ever being what it used to be, hence I'll never have back what it used to be. The clock's ticking," Woods said.

"I'm getting older. To ramp up for a few events a year as Mr Hogan did, he did a pretty good job of it, and there's no reason that I can't do that. I've come off surgeries before, I've come off long layoffs and I've won or come close to winning before. So I know the recipe for it."

He will partner his son Charlie in the PNC Championship for the second straight year this week and use the opportunity to further assess his game in the 36-hole hit-and-giggle exhibition tourney.

"Although it's been a long and challenging year, I am very excited to close it out by competing in the PNC Championship with my son Charlie. I'm playing as a dad and couldn't be more excited and proud," he said.

"I won't have the opportunity to practice given the condition of my leg and build up. I just don't. I'll have a different way of doing it and that's OK and I'm at peace with that, I've made the climb enough times.

"We're talking about going out there and playing against the world's best on the most difficult golf courses under the most difficult conditions. I'm so far from that."

His birthday on Dec 30 could well be low-key and as a new year awaits, he is keen to turn to a new page.

It may be somewhat of a coincidence that 2022 will usher in the Year of the Tiger on the lunar calendar, and as we all know, a tiger never loses its stripes.

The golf world should, therefore, be braced for one final roar from Woods and, hopefully, another comeback for the ages.

The writer is senior director of marketing and communications for the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur.

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