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The Comeback: Tiger's torturous journey to becoming a champion again

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If you’re looking for Tiger Woods, he’s not here.

Ideally, he would be. But that’s not the way golf – or life – works. You must earn the right to be in the season finale and Tiger Woods did not do that.

This whole comeback thing … pfft.

What happened? He was supposed to have 16 majors by now. Seventeen, even. Sam Snead in the rear-view mirror and Jack Nicklaus about to eat dust as well. Now? We’re back to where he was before Augusta National, before last year at East Lake. A ragged 43-year-old man who is closer to calling it quits than breaking any significant records.

That’s certainly one way to look at it.

Tiger’s withdrawal from The Northern Trust, his also-ran at the BMW Championship, his absence from the Tour Championship, you can take those three and combine them with everything else that has happened (or hasn’t happened) over the last four-and-a-half months and say: Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Or – and this is not a suggestion, just an option – you can look back at what Woods accomplished in his two most recent victories, and everything he overcame to make those happen, and appreciate his awesome achievements.

Twenty-one years ago, Khalil Kain – who, as an aside, was brilliant as Raheem in “Juice” – portrayed Tiger in a most cringe-worthy, made-for-TV movie about Woods’ life and journey to becoming the 1997 Masters champion.

Mother Mary, it was awful.

Word is, there is a Tiger mini-series in the works, based on a recent book (for which Tiger did not participate). This is reportedly more focused on the events in Tiger’s life from the ill-fated Thanksgiving of 2009 to his Masters triumph this year.

No proper Tiger story can be told without the salaciousness. For all the awe, there is also the shock. But whether we are viewing Tiger as first-hand observers or future critics who never witnessed his genius or the ignominy, there has a chance to be a denouement so heavily powerful that it supersedes all else in our assessment of his personal and professional lives.

Tiger deserves a proper movie – or series – and it should include all the glory and the grime, and when the final credits roll, people should have a salient thought: What a comeback.

“Pitch it to me,” the movie exec says.

It’s called, “The Comeback.” It’s a rise and fall and rise again of a great champion, but it’s unlike anything ever before witnessed. This isn’t James Braddock or Ben Hogan. This is a kid groomed to be the greatest ever in his sport. A kid whose own father said his influence would extend beyond Gandhi’s – the freaking Mahatma. And he’s black. Or multi-cultural. Point is, he’s not white in a very vanilla sport. He’s got all this intrigue. Unprecedented expectations. He’s placed on such a high pedestal that there is no way to keep his balance. He must fall. And he does. But this fall goes beyond credulity. You damn near must suspend disbelief to follow along. He’s so accomplished, so professionally revered, that he’s not only the greatest player in his sport, he’s arguably the most dominant athlete to ever live. He appears to be the only person alive who can maintain this wire act. And then it happens. One quiet, holiday, four-day weekend, news starts to trickle out about some trouble. Trickle, trickle, levee break. This has sordid details you never would have imagined, shocking to even those closest to him. It’s not a Charles Foster Kane scandal. Goes well beyond that. And it happens during the rise of social media. “The Comeback,” though, isn’t just related to one Icarian crash. There are layers that develop him in the audience’s eyes. This comeback is multi-faceted.

The personal comeback from humiliation and shame.

The public comeback to attain acceptance and eventual adoration.

The comeback from injuries and physical pain. 

The comeback to becoming a champion, against a younger, bolder breed of player he inspired.

The comeback from the loss of his most precious competitive commodity: Fear. 

All of these intertwine, the personal with the public, the inspiration and the intimidation, the pain through it all. And he must overcome all these things, any of which singularly could have destroyed him at any personal or professional level, to achieve, not everything he once had nor again become who he once was. Instead, this comeback is destined to put him in a place he’s never before been: in the heart of the audience. The audience has this overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. Here is this athletic giant, more myth and legend than man. And now, through all this crisis … he is human. There is appreciation. Where once the audience was passively witnessing his greatness, they are now actively rooting for redemption. And it doesn’t come easily. There are setbacks, there are teases, and then it finally comes together … in a finale. The action is reminiscent of the past. He’s clinical, near flawless. His challengers, among the best in the world, offer nothing but Lilliputian arrows. But the scene is like nothing the audience has ever witnessed. It’s like the breaking of an ant farm, thousands flowing from the left and the right and the rear, encircling him, reveling. It’s an unimaginable scene among two decades of unforgettable scenes. But “The Comeback” isn’t complete. There is still something lingering, hanging in the air. The audience knows it. He knows it. There is still one thing he must achieve. This is where “The Comeback” comes together. It’s the site of where he first returned after his public shaming. The site where he was once publicly harangued from on high. It’s the site of the event most associated with his legend, and one from which he’s been noticeably absent because of injury. It’s where the new breed walks as if this is their turf now. The audience feels cautiously optimistic about his chances prior to the start of this event. Expectations temper after the first day, grow after the second day, explode after the third day. It’s the classic movie arc. And then the final day. Poetically, a comeback is needed. The humiliation, the scorn, the pain is gone. Youthful rivals are present. And when it all comes together, when we hit that moment that makes the audience gasp, there it is: Fear! It’s back. It’s palpable. It feels like 10, 15, 20 years ago. And it all leads to a moment the audience never believed it would again see. There is triumph, redemption, hugs, kisses, tears, exaltation. There’s hope. There is promise. There is this feeling of a new beginning.

And how does it end?

It ends how it’s supposed to end. It doesn’t matter. “The Comeback” is complete.