Tiger Woods is fighting for another kind of victory after looking death and amputation in the face and still coming back for more
Tiger Woods, crimson shirted among the azaleas, the blinding wattage of his competitive charisma firing a cosmic flare across Amen Corner and out athwart the world, remains the most untouchable sight in all of sport.
Woods beneath a coral Georgian sun on Masters Sunday, The Tiger prowling and bloodthirsty and magnetic, seizes an elemental part of an audience few other athletes can reach.
Remember the inexplicable, tear-jerking, life-affirming, stop-all-the-clocks April Sunday three years ago when, aged 43, and rising above spinal injuries which, the consensus had it, rendered him a beaten docket, he seemed to conquer not only Augusta, but time itself?
Has there ever been a moment to compare with his redemptive march down 18, The Tiger’s smile sun-dappling the planet, humanity long concealed behind padlocked doors opened to the world as he caught sight of his son, Charlie, a mini-me in scarlet Nike top and baseball cap (peak self-consciously titled backwards)?
What a story and spectacle it was, one that placed a global audience in an ecstatic chokehold.
Woods reaching back through the years with stunning verve to find the best of his champion self, replaying an old movie the world assumed long ago deleted and lost forever.
Months earlier, diminished by his debilitating loss of mobility, he had been reduced to crawling forlornly around his bedroom floor.
Buffeted by lurid personal stories, elbowed to the golfing margins, a fallen Gatsby.
Yet there he was, in sporting old age, 11 years on from his 14th major, rising up again to be The Tiger, the hypnotic killer of yore.
Now we are in 2022 and still the music declines to die.
Finding a way to again face down mortality, there looms the bewitching, pulse-quickening prospect that we might enjoy one more jaunt with Woods on the Augusta National roller-coaster.
The announcement on whether or not he will tee it up on Thursday has been made. He has confirmed his presence for Thursday.
That we are even having the conversation feels like another voyage into the territory of the miraculous.
A little over 13 months ago, a 4x4 somersaulted and buckled in the Californian scrub, spearing Woods across a busy highway.
Sport’s most iconic figure, one unrivalled for 25 years as a compelling shaper of destiny, was reduced to a passenger of fate: Pulled from the wreckage, fighting for his life.
Woods presented his new reality, one where there was a serious conversation about having his right leg amputated, in the starkest terms as recently as November.
“I’m lucky to be alive but also to still have the limb. I’m very grateful that someone upstairs was taking care of me, that I’m able not only to be here but also to walk without a prosthesis.”
Fast forward less than 20 weeks from those words and there was Woods on Monday playing a practice round in Augusta's botanic Georgian wonderland in the company of Freddie Couples and Justin Thomas.
The fairways were thronged, ten-deep, Tiger’s latest refusal to surrender when the odds were so brutally stacked against him at the kernel of why his story continues to touch so many in such a bone-deep way.
Even the most romantic understand he is not about to conquer the golfing universe one more time.
It will be touching fantasy just to arrive at the first tee, stupefying were he to come close to making the cut.
But he remains box-office, his story dwarfing all others, his skyscraping charisma still effortlessly towering above the best of the rest.
He couldn’t win three years ago, but he did. He can’t compete this week, but he has found a way.
The larger part of this brilliant, damaged man’s existence was distilled down to the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus and his 18 majors, his performances on the four weeks of the year that define golfing greatness the lone measure of his self-esteem.
That prize has disappeared over the horizon, but the surges of competitive blood continue to throb through his veins.
Woods is fighting for another kind of victory this week, one where he looked death and amputation in the face, and still came back for more.
Where one more time he is on the stage and fighting as the curtain rises on four days of unmissable theatre.
Firing one last flare across Amen Corner, lighting up the golfing world like nobody else can.
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