In the End the Comeback Begins


Chevron World ChallengeTHOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The gutted shell that is Terminal 6 at Los Angeles International Airport was an apropos reminder of where Tiger Woods may be in his game, to say nothing of his life. And the larger-than-life poster of Mr. Laker, Kobe Bryant, was an optimistic vision of where the world No. 2 may be heading if all goes according to plan.

The large sign draped across the entrance to Terminal 6 read: “Forgive our mess” and “Re:LAX.” There was no sign under Bryant’s likeness, but the words redemption, reclamation and rewind immediately come to mind.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is looking to end the 2010 season on a high note. (Getty Images)
It seems about right Woods is ending his meanest year here in Los Angeles at his own Chevron World Challenge. In many ways, at least publicly, it all started at tony Sherwood Country Club some 12 months ago.

The Nov. 27 crash that ignited perhaps the most profound fall from grace in all of sport was still fresh in the collective consciousness. Lacking anything even remotely resembling fact, the grounds were abuzz with rumor and innuendo. Daily revelations of serial infidelity made Woods’ 72-hole member-member every bit an afterthought and the ongoing drama the only point of light.

Black Friday begat a really bad Friday at Quail Hollow which begat all kinds of competitive and personal lows for Woods.

For the first time as a professional, Woods failed to win anything more substantial than a $5 press. He lost multi-million dollar endorsements, confidence, fans and, worst of all, his family. There is no recovering from that, at least not in the long term.

“Harder than anyone could ever imagine unless you’ve actually gone through it before,” Woods said on Tuesday at Sherwood when asked about the last year.

Last year amid the plush confines of Sherwood the scene was surreal, a snapshot of confusion and curiosity. The question everyone was asking and no one was answering was: What happened?

Twelve months and plenty of pain down the road the scene and questions have changed to: What’s next?

Woods grew up about an hour down L.A.’s clogged byways from Sherwood and the lifelong Lakers fan could, if he was so inclined, take a cue from Bryant. It wasn’t too long ago the Lakers’ star was in a similar hole, although to be fair it must be pointed out that Bryant was accused of breaking a law. Woods only broke hearts and promises.

Bryant was charged with sexual assault and on the ropes professionally and personally. Now they hang NBA banners high into rafters in his name and life-sized posters of him on the walls at LAX. Now Bryant hung the moon in Tinseltown with his words and his deeds.

Or maybe Woods could turn to another embattled star. Not so long ago Michael Vick was doing hard time for a heinous crime. Now he’s bigger in Philadelphia than Rocky and willing the Eagles to greatness.

By comparison, Woods is in a prison only of his own making. While neither Bryant nor Vick should be considered a role model, the trail they blazed is worth noting.

Unlike last year, when the real challenge at the Chevron was keeping the topic on golf, Camp Tiger may not be driving the bus, but they at least have a seat close to the front.

Woods sat down with Golf Channel’s Steve Sands for a 15-minute one-on-one interview before taking the hot seat for another 30 minutes before the rest of the assembled scribes. If Woods was evasive earlier this year at his first media meet-and-greet post-Nov. 27 at Augusta National, he was engaging on Tuesday. If he was contrite for much of a mean summer, he was composed at Sherwood.

“As a golfer I learned so much more this year than any other year and as a person infinitely more,” Woods said. “It’s been a very successful year even though it was a very painful year as well.”

Asked on Tuesday the competitive low point of his season Woods reasoned most people would guess it was the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a no-cut event where he finished with rounds of 74-72-75-77 and tied for 78th, some 30 strokes out of the lead. But for a man who once mused that “second sucks,” the reality is golf was always going to be background noise in 2010.

“It’s been different ... golf has been secondary,” he said.

As Woods’ life off the course has settled as best it could and he settled into a new swing philosophy with Sean Foley there have been signs of life. His fourth-place showing at the Australian Masters was his best finish of the year and his last 15 holes at the Ryder Cup were as close to flawless as he’s been maybe since the 2009 Memorial.

“I’m excited about the future,” he said. “I showed some good signs over the last three tournaments.”

Competitively, a victory this week at the Chevron would, at the least, be a measure of progress. What it would mean to the ongoing reclamation project, however, is immeasurable.

We learned 12 months ago our society’s insatiable desire for smut, but as the sun set on another picture-perfect California day north of L.A. it seems equally true that we dig the comeback just as much. Maybe even more.

“Our society is a forgiving society in general,” said Greg McLaughlin, the tournament director for Woods’ Chevron World Challenge and AT&T National. “They want individuals to accept responsibility and he did that. It takes time.”

Luckily for Woods, he has the two key elements required for such a comeback – time and talent.