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Birdie's Eye View: How things have changed for Tiger

Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer
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Day in and day out, I listen to the men around the office debate, extrapolate and prognosticate over the most finite of details surrounding the game. It is the writers and on-air types’ job, after all, to dissect and deliver the meaning of every made cut, cut of the rough and rough patch that players face each week.

While it’s easy – and necessary – to get caught up in the here-and-now of stats, figures and trends, there’s something to be said for taking a more aerial view of golf’s landscape. That’s what this new weekly feature, Birdie’s Eye View, aims to accomplish – looking at golf through the lens of one year ago, to help shed a more peripheral perspective.

What better opportunity to examine just how much can change in a year than on the heels of Tiger Woods' victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and his return to the world's top? It seems all smiles and smelling of the roses now, but things looked very differently just one year ago.

1. Woods officially won for the first time, post-scandal

Tiger Woods

Then: One year ago, many believed Tiger would never win again. But he did. Woods ended his 30-month winless drought (not counting the unofficial World Challenge) when he captured the 2012 API by a five-shot margin over Graeme McDowell. It was Woods' 72nd all-time win and it moved him from 18th in the world to No. 6 – his highest world ranking since April 24, 2011.

Now: Woods has secured five additional wins (three this year) since then, for an overall Tour victory total of 77 – passing Jack Nicklaus on the all-time wins' list, along the way. We take it for granted now, but with all the nay-saying and nit-picking, it's pretty impressive that Woods went from zero to six in no time flat.

2. Els was battling to qualify for his 19th consecutive Masters

Ernie Els at the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational

Then: Ernie Els hadn't missed a trip down Magnolia Lane since 1993, but this time last year he was battling to break into the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking to ensure his spot in the 2012 edition. After missed opportunities earlier in the season at the European Tour's Volvo Golf Champions and the PGA Tour's Tampa Bay Championship, Els needed a solo third-place finish or a two-way tie for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational to break into the top 50. Els began the final round of the API three shots back, but twice missed par putts inside 3 feet and shot a final-round 75 that put him in a seven-way tie for fourth place. His only hope was a win at the Shell Houston Open

Now: Els finished T-12 in Houston and missed out on his 19th consecutive Masters showing. Now, the reigning British Open champion – currently ranked 24th in the world – is fully exempt into all four majors for the next five years. Eventually it all worked itself out, but turns out not everything comes easy to the Big Easy.

3. 'The Big Miss' hit shelves

Tiger Woods

Then: Hank Haney, who worked with Woods from 2004-10, chronicled his six years coaching the 14-time major winner in 'The Big Miss.' Haney received plenty of backlash from the golfing community, insisting he violated the unspoken coach-player code of confidentiality, upon which Haney retorted that the time spent with Woods were his memories, too. The book told of Tiger's fear of hitting driver left; how Tiger injured his knee in 2008, because of the training he did with the Navy SEALs; and his subdued relationship with then-wife Elin, among other things.

Now: One year later, 'The Big' buzz has settled, but the tale remains a must-read in the world of golf. As for Haney, he's moved on to coaching another, shall we say, 'accomplished' athlete – Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. Tiger's moved on, too, to Sean Foley and Lindsey Vonn. Not sure either one – Tiger or Hank – is really 'Miss'-ing the other right now.

4. Palmer returned home from hospital after health scare

Arnold Palmer

Then: Few may recall Arnie was absent from the API trophy ceremony last year because he had been taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure against high blood pressure. The King returned home the following day and everything appeared to have checked out alright.

Now: From check-ups to Kate Upton's cheek, it's a safe bet to say the King is doing just fine. He met, dined with and kissed Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Upton at Bay Hill this past week. No trips to the hospital this year. Does that mean Kate didn't get Arnie's blood boiling?