No. 3 -- Tiger's Return

By Bill Fields Illustrations by Dale Stephanos
December 20, 2009

The comeback being an essential element of sport, and with Tiger Woods on his way to doing everything that can be done in his, it made sense that he would mount a formidable return after having extensive knee surgery June 24, 2008, a week following his phenomenal U.S. Open win at Torrey Pines. Other golfers have overcome more serious medical issues -- Ben Hogan from a near-fatal car wreck and Gene Littler from cancer, to name two -- but the reconstruction of Woods' left anterior cruciate ligament still was the biggest hurdle yet in a career largely free of distractions.

After eight months away Woods returned to action in February under a media microscope, at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at Ritz-Carlton GC at Dove Mountain, where he lost in the second round to Tim Clark. But it wasn't long before Woods rediscovered his winning touch, rallying from a five-stroke deficit and making a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole to edge Sean O'Hair and win the Arnold Palmer Invitational. By year's end he had six PGA Tour victories, which gave him 71 career titles, within shouting distance of all-time leader Sam Snead (82).

But Woods came up short where it matters most to him and to history, in the majors. Plagued by ordinary putting, he was T-6 at the Masters and the U.S. Open, missed the cut at the British Open (for only the second time in a major as a pro) and shockingly was overtaken by Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship, failing for the first time to win a major when leading after 54 holes. Woods' major frustrations marred what was otherwise a grand return.