Guerry Clegg commentary: Tiger Woods rebuilding himself along with his game

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 26, 2013 

Tiger Woods' victory Monday at Bay Hill -- his third win already on this young PGA Tour season -- has him on the brink of an achievement once thought even more unreachable than Jack Nicklaus's 18 majors or Sam Snead's 82 PGA Tour victories.

It's a victory less measurable, but far more significant, even than any major.

Woods has a chance to win forgiveness.

Not universal forgiveness, of course. That will never happen, even if he wins every tournament on Tour and donates all of his earnings to Saint Jude Children's Hospital. There were multitudes who disliked Woods even before his classic fall. There will always be those who will never forget the stories of serial infidelity -- both in his marriage and in his status as a superhero. They will remember only the night Woods crashed his car at his home after a fight with his now ex-wife, Elin, and the subsequent sordid details of a severely flawed man.

But just as he has rehabilitated his body and rebuilt every aspect of his game, Woods has worked diligently to rebuild his image. Whether it's genuine or superficial, we may never know. But Woods, who once seemed as robotic as a Stepford wife, now seems remarkably human.

He smiles more, and not just when the cameras are zoomed in on him. He played down the fact that this week's victory was his eighth at Bay Hill out of his last 14 tournaments.

"I play well here, and that's as simple as it gets," Woods said.

The Tiger Woods that dominated golf played well on any course with tee boxes and grass. He probably could have shot 2-under in a gravel parking lot.

With Monday's win, Woods regained his No. 1 ranking in the World, and is now the clear-cut favorite to win the Masters in two weeks.

This Tiger Woods is more intriguing than the young prodigy that played in a PGA Tour event when he was 16 or the one who dominated golf like Wayne Gretzky dominated hockey or the one who suddenly scuffled to make cuts. He no longer wraps up tournaments before making the turn on the final day.

To watch Woods before when he was at his best was to be numbed by his greatness. Drive, pitch, putt, birdie. Drive, pitch, putt, birdie. When it came to protecting a lead, only Mariano Rivera was more of a sure thing. Surpassing Nicklaus and Snead seemed inevitable.

That Tiger is gone and will never return. This Tiger just might three-putt on the back nine on Sunday. But he also might hole out from a bunker to make birdie.

He needs "only" four more major wins to catch Nicklaus. And we can say "only" because it now seems inevitable that he's not done yet. And if he can do that, then breaking Snead's record would seem a cinch. He's just five behind Snead as it is.

To root against Tiger Woods, the golfer, is futile. He will succeed or fail regardless of whether the public embraces him.

To root against Tiger Woods, the man, is pointless. Yes, he was a selfish lout. But his victims were mainly his family.

Could he be more gracious under duress? Absolutely. Slamming his club into the ground or chasing an errant tee shot with a few swear words breaches golf etiquette. But truth be told, it happens among 10-handicappers every day, even to most even-tempered souls. Road rage is no more grating than a heavy fade into a bunker or a duffed chip shot.

But golf is the only game with such unrealistic ideals. We snickered when Bo Jackson snapped a bat across his knee in disgust.

What this resurgence has reminded us is that Woods the golfer and Woods the man are far from finished products. In both respects, we're no longer certain of the outcome.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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