And he cant return soon enough to bolster sagging television ratings and anxious sponsors.
With an expanding family and the knowledge that his bodys imperfect, Tiger likely will play less, not more, so its imperative that new stars continue to emerge. How Anthony Kim, Sergio Garcia and Camilo Villegas harness the confidence they gained while he was gone, particularly if theyre standing opposite Tiger on a tee box Sunday at the Masters, will be among the intriguing developments of 2009.
Once back, Tiger will hear a growing chorus of doubt if he goes a year or two without winning a major. Naysayers will conjecture that maybe Jack Nicklaus 18 isnt the forgone conclusion that it seemed to be prior to the injury.
But then Tigers answered every challenge hes ever faced ' post-Butch, post-marriage, post-Earl and post-baby. Nothing in his past suggests even remotely that hell fail post-knee repair.
In fact at every turn, all hes done is author one giant chapter after the next in some sweeping Master and Commander epic from the Masters at 21 by a dozen, with all its social significance, to the U.S. Open at Pebble by 15, to the Tiger Slam, to his latest offering at Torrey Pines.
Impossible as it was winning on one good leg it somehow made sense because everything hes ever done seems to have what, a 50- or 100-year shelf life?
Who but Tiger could render the homerun at Dubai, the Match Play comeback, and the hat trick at Bay Hill as mere preludes to something bigger? Who but Tiger could render the must make 35-footer for eagle or the have-to-have-it, curling 25-footer to win as stone cold routine?
As the U.S. Open unfolded, no media member could quite decipher the code as Tiger refused to let on as to the extent of the damage and some took umbrage with that; Tiger, they felt, owed the public an explanation. But Tiger chose not to take the focus off the national championship, and truly owes us nothing more than what hes always given us ' his very best on the golf course. Anyone whos not satisfied with that cannot ever be satisfied.
Soon after, we learned the knee was mangled and the leg fractured.
Instantly it became a kind of tall tale that fathers and mothers will share with children years from now, like a fable.
And the only mysteries that remained were his date of return, and which candidate he voted for in the presidential election.
By sheer volume of victories this was not his greatest season, but as a bold, theatrical reminder as to who he is, what hes made of and what he means to this sport, there have been none as memorable as 2008.
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