February 18, 2009

Ten reasons to celebrate Tiger's return

To the list of history's most anticipated returns -- the return of MacArthur to the Philippines, the return of the swallows to Capistrano, the return of the Jedi to Tatooine -- let us add another glorious return for the ages: the return of Tiger Woods to major tournament golf.

Last June 16, Woods went from epic playoff (at the U.S. Open) to epic layoff (for reconstructive knee surgery), plunging golf and its fans into a bottomless pot bunker of despair. But this April at the Masters our long international nightmare is over. Here are 10 reasons to celebrate the return of Tiger, one for every month that he missed between majors:

I

Because the Arizona Cardinals, for those torturous months, were the best athletes wearing red on Sunday. And that never felt right.

II

Because we'll now get to see Tiger on two good knees, something he hasn't had for 10 to 12 years, the last time his left ACL was healthy. Among golfers, only John Daly, serially proposing to his future ex-wives, has spent more time on one knee than Woods, whose playoff win at Torrey Pines was the finest performance on a single leg since Orson Welles played Long John Silver.

III

Because golf without Tiger is whiter than C-SPAN, and about as entertaining. At a time when the president of the United States, the world's highest-paid actor, the world's highest-paid television star and the champion of Formula One racing are black, the tour still looks too often like a scene from a nature special: one Tiger chased by 200 WASPs.

IV

Because in Tiger's absence, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich made a mockery of the mock turtleneck. Blago, clearly in need of a checkup from the neck up, wrapped said neck in a mock turtle in manifold photo ops. Tiger's return restores some dignity to this troubled fashion, and to fashion generally. Before Tiger, golf chic meant Tom Lehman in Dockers. During Tiger's convalescence, it consisted largely of Ian Poulter, in plaid slacks.

V

Because Tiger -- having broken the records of Bobby Jones and aspiring to one-up designer Robert Trent Jones -- can now turn his attention to the diabolical Dow Jones, whose index closed at 12,269 on the Monday of the U.S. Open playoff and has been in a petulant free fall ever since. Without its spokesman for Buick, General Motors required a $10-billion taxpayer bailout. As a one-man economic-stimulus package, Tiger keeps countless agents, tournament directors, apparel makers, equipment manufacturers, sport psychologists, yacht captains, pilots, pillow-fluffers, ad men, pressmen and yes men gainfully employed, giving all of us a ride on the center-vented coattails of his 42-long green jacket.

VI

Because a man can spend only so much time around his Isleworth home, his Jupiter Island estate-in-progress, his Jackson Hole hideaway, his 155-foot yacht and his Swedish bikini-model wife before he goes a little stir crazy and needs to play some golf.

VII

Because Sergio Garcia dates Greg Norman's daughter, hangs with soccer stars and hobnobs with tennis stars (Hingis, Nadal), drives Ferraris, weighs his money, is 29, world-famous, might one day call Chris Evert his mother-in-law and has more trophies than Larry King has trophy wives ... and he still can't buy a major. And there's something healthy about that.

VIII

Because Barnes shall always come before Noble, Starsky before Hutch and Hall before Oates. Likewise, Woods must precede all other names in the World Golf Ranking if life is truly to make sense. Tiger returns from nearly a year off in time to retain his top spot -- which is a little like winning the Boston Marathon despite stopping at mile 20 for dinner, drinks and a Bergman flick.

IX

Because it gives Steve Williams something to do, taking him off the racing circuit in New Zealand and putting him on Tiger's bag at Augusta, where he's less likely to go off on Phil Mickelson, as he did from the safety of the Antipodes in December. In making the switch, Williams moves from a hobby that's a palindrome (racecar) to a boss who's a palindrome (deified).

X

Because life is short and Augusta is long -- longer than it used to be, thanks to Tiger -- and we could all use a little entertainment. Like Shakespeare in 1601, Mozart in 1788 or Einstein in 1905, Woods in 2009 is a genius working at the peak of his powers, and we're all alive to witness whatever comes next.