Let's face facts: From the moment that big golf ball in Times Square dropped at midnight to commemorate the beginning of 2013, Tiger Woods was a virtual lock to make GolfChannel.com's list of newsmakers of the year.
If he returned to glory, winning five times and regaining his standing as the world's No. 1-ranked player, he'd make the list. If he failed to win a major for a fifth straight year, his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus continuing in a holding pattern, he'd make the list.
As it turns out, both scenarios came true.
It was more best of times than worst of times for Woods this year, but his not-so-Dickensian tale continued in the form of his most Woodsian performance in nearly a half-decade.
Woods competed 19 times around the globe in 2013, winning at a 26.3 percent clip that nearly mirrors his career number. That includes victories at old stomping grounds Torrey Pines, Bay Hill, Doral and Firestone, with a second career title at the pesky Players Championship serving as his coup de grace during a campaign that netted a record 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year award.
Following his final appearance of the year, a runner-up finish at his own Northwestern Mutual World Challenge during which he was uncharacteristically caught from behind by Zach Johnson and even more uncharacteristically missed a par putt in the playoff to lose, Woods was asked to assess his results.
“Pretty damn good year,” he said matter-of-factly. “Five wins and, you know, on some pretty good venues, so very pleased with the year.”
After a down period due to injury and personal scandal that saw him drop to as low as 58th in the world, Woods supplanted Rory McIlroy as the No. 1-ranked player with his third win of the season at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his eighth career victory there, tying the all-time single-tournament PGA Tour record.
It wasn’t all glory for Woods, though. At the major championships – the four tournaments upon which he so often maintains that he measures himself – he finished T-4 (Masters), T-32 (U.S. Open), T-6 (Open Championship) and T-40 (PGA Championship), solid performances for most mere mortals, but further disappointment for one still chasing Nicklaus’ elusive mark.
While this year will be grouped in with the previous four as another failure to push closer to that record, it will be remembered more specifically as the year of the rules controversies.
In Abu Dhabi, he took an improper drop that was deemed a penalty and led to a missed cut. At the Masters, another bad drop after hitting the flagstick and seeing his ball carom into the creek guarding the 15th green led to a disputable penalty that kept him in the tournament based on a decision by the rules committee. At the Players, he drew further criticism when his tee shot on the fourth hole of the final round snapped left and some believed he gave himself a favorable drop. And at the BMW Championship, Woods maintained his ball only oscillated after moving debris from behind it, while slow-motion video evidence showed a slight movement; he was assessed a penalty prior to signing his scorecard.
There were even controversies over the controversies. Nick Faldo, working for CBS, was among those who suggested Woods should withdraw following the Masters ruling. Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee wrote in a Golf.com article that Woods was “a little cavalier with the rules.”
Conversely, it was also a year during which he opened up and showed more of his personal side for the first time since a widely publicized divorce. In March, he announced that he and world-class skier Lindsey Vonn were dating. While they didn’t exactly do the talk-show circuit together, they weren’t living in total private, either. From hanging on NFL sidelines together to Woods attending her skiing events to Vonn placing a squirrel on his shoulder at the Presidents Cup in the ultimate YouTube moment, the high-profile couple hardly kept a low profile. Hey, she even called him “dorky-goofy” in a live television appearance.
That wasn’t the only sign of transparency. Following his victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, with the cameras still rolling, Woods’ four-year-old son Charlie embraced him in celebration for the first time.
“This was the first win he’s ever been at,” Woods later explained. “That’s what makes it special for both of us. He’s never seen me win a golf tournament.”
Chances are, he’ll see him win again soon. Woods will enter 2014 still in pursuit of Nicklaus, and much closer to the all-time victory record of Sam Snead, needing two wins to tie and three to claim sole possession of the mark.
The smart money says it will happen early, with Woods prepared for another successful campaign. One thing is for certain: Whether it’s another Player of the Year type of season or he falters, he’ll find his name on this list of newsmakers once again next year.
More Newsmakers in 2013: