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Punch Shot: Best pro comeback last 20 years

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Henrik Stenson returned from golf oblivion to the winner's circle with his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Is that the most impressive professional golf comeback in the last 20 years? The GolfChannel.com team weighs in with their choices.


By REX HOGGARD

Lee Westwood’s ascent from the abyss that had become his career in the early 2000s is rivaled only by the free fall that precipitated his unlikely and inspiring comeback.

On May 13, 2001, the Englishman had secured his spot squarely within the game’s world order at fourth in the world ranking. Two years later, on May 23, 2003, he’d bottomed out at 266th.

Whether it was a mechanics issue or merely a loss of confidence, Westwood failed to post a single top-10 finish on the European Tour in 2002 and ’03 wasn’t shaping up to be any better with missed cuts in six of his first nine starts.

In June 2003, however, he posted his first top-10 finish in a stroke-play event in nearly two years at the European Open and two months later he won the BMW International Open followed by another victory at the Dunhill Links Championship in October.

“I have goals all the time and getting back into the top 100 in the world rankings would be a short-term one. You never know what’s around the corner,” he said on the eve of his Dunhill victory in 2003.

Within a year, he’d climbed back into the top 50 in the world and in 2010 he peaked at No. 1 in the ranking.

Few, if any, in the modern game have endured such a plummet or such a spirited comeback.


By RANDALL MELL

Johnny Miller’s career was finished.

With knee, neck and elbow injuries slowing him while still in his prime in the '80s, it was the dreaded yips that ultimately derailed him. His putting woes became so debilitating after he won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 1987, he couldn’t really compete anymore. The yips trumped his still majestic ball striking. He was through.

Or, so golf thought.

Surprisingly, in ’94, seven years after what seemed sure to be his last PGA Tour title, five years after he announced he was retiring, Miller won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He wasn’t even a part-time player after stepping away from the Tour in ’89, playing one or two PGA Tour events a year in purely ceremonial fashion. He didn’t even practice that much anymore, but somehow, some way, Miller beat Tom Watson down the stretch to win his 25th and last PGA Tour title. Miller was 46, still battling a hellacious case of the yips, but he beat them and everyone else that week imagining he was a carefree teenager over putts.

That might be the greatest comeback over the last 20 years.


By RYAN LAVNER

Steve Stricker’s comeback was so impressive, he won the PGA Tour’s award for persistence – two years in a row.

It seems unfathomable now, of course, because the semi-retired and supremely steady Stricker can take a month off, finish second and then repeat the process. But there was a stretch in the mid-2000s when his game was in such disarray, he missed 38 of 69 cuts, lost his card, dropped to 337th in the world and failed to qualify for 11 of 12 majors. To emerge from that dark period he beat balls out of a three-sided trailer in Wisconsin.

By 2006, though, he was back to 34th on the money list. That brought the first Comeback Player of the Year award. A year later, he won it again after rising all the way to fourth in earnings, including a victory at The Barclays that snapped a six-year winless drought.

Since then, he’s enjoyed success well into his 40s, playing in seven consecutive team competitions (including this year’s Presidents Cup), pushing his career victory total to 12 and amassing nearly $40 million in earnings. The only missing piece, of course, is a major title. Considering a decade ago his career seemed irretrievably lost, it’s a fair trade-off. 


By JASON SOBEL

There are golf fans who only seriously started watching the game less than a decade ago and never realized that Lee Westwood hasn’t always been among the game’s best players.

He was, of course, for a while, climbing into the world’s top five early in his career. Ten years ago, though, his game had endured such a precipitous drop-off that he fell to 266th – miles from qualifying for majors and WGC events and other noteworthy tournaments.

It is a testament to Westwood’s work ethic and innate talent that in the years since he’s become the game’s greatest recent reclamation project. His second act has proven longer and better than his first.

From Justin Rose to Paul Casey to Henrik Stenson, there have been a number of players who have gone from riches to rags and back to riches again, but none has enjoyed as steep an incline as Westwood, who continues competing at a world-class level a decade after it appeared these days could have been over.


By MERCER BAGGS

Tiger Woods. Players have overcome poor mechanics and lack of confidence, but no one over the last 20 years, perhaps ever in this sport, has battled back from what Woods endured. Embarrassment, public humiliation, the destruction of a carefully crafted image, the demise of his marriage, fodder for tabloids and late-night TV shows. That's not to mention the injuries and the swing change.

A few years ago, we were wondering if Woods would ever win anything again. He dropped outside the OWGR top 50. He needed a captain's pick to make the U.S. Presidents Cup team. He's now a five-time champ in 2013, the clear-cut world No. 1 and a legitimate threat to claim more majors than anyone in golf history.

He's also put his personal life back together. And he's marketable again. It's the greatest professional comeback since Ben Hogan.