He's baaaaaaaaack!

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles, CEO Sports Network

Hatboro, PA (Sports Network) - He is on the prowl. After a little more than eight months away from the game due to surgery and rehab, the man has returned.

The Tiger has been released and is none the worse for wear. Networks have breathed a huge sigh of relief; fans of golf are hyperventilating at the opportunity to see if he is the same, better or still slightly off his game for the first few tournaments entered. In other words, how soon does perfection kick in? The PGA is quietly going through a standing ovation with muted cheers. To be demonstrative and/or vocal is not their style. It would be akin to Barack Obama shouting, "Take that you suckers," after forcing one of his new legislative agenda items down the throats of the folks on the other side of the aisle.

Tiger Woods' 2009 debut lasted just two rounds at the Accenture Match Play tournament.
Tiger Woods is back. The smile is as broad and the swing the same. He is expected to step out and wreak havoc upon all others. He has not, and will not. Not yet anyway. It would have been fantastic to see him and Phil Mickelson going toe-to-toe at the recent WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship but both went home to practice for Augusta a bit earlier than anticipated.

That caused TV ratings to plummet and the crowds thinned faster than the hair on the head of Terry Bradshaw.

He will be followed more closely than a bevy of models lining up for a bikini photo shoot in Times Square. If he is in the lead at any tournament he enters between now and The Masters, the throngs will gather; if he drifts back with the pack, the media will comment endlessly about that and wonder how soon the rush to the top of the leaderboard will begin. If he does not make the cut - perish the thought - interviews with medical staffs from here to Tokyo will kick in with ferocity, tenacity and the rush of a winter storm.

The Masters looms, a month distant, give or take a few days. On the way there are the presumed and predictable stops, the tune-ups March 12-15 at the WGC-CA Championship and March 26-29 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. A win at either will be the same as the bat signal being seen in the skies above Gotham.

The message will be clear. Close to the top will also suffice although not placate the journalists with a series of headlines already in place, just waiting to be applied; nor the fans that will crowd the fairways, tee boxes and circle the greens faster than the Cheyenne and Sioux did when they chased down George Custer and his men at the Little Big Horn.

And, if the man many have heralded as the best to ever play the game should don a green jacket this year, there will be a line of professional golfers waiting to have surgery to various ailing parts of their bodies. He no longer plays for the prize money or trophies and, if you put the two up for a vote, my guess is that the crystal is more important than the check. He plays to win, to set records, to establish himself as what he has become, to do the impossible with improbable shots.

Tiger Woods is to golf what Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan were to the NBA, the somewhat despoiled and sullied home run battle was to Major League Baseball and what the Super Bowl has become to the NFL although the game itself is just another game for the most part. He is bigger than the game. He is the game today. If he had any more endorsements he could lend Obama money for the stimulus effort. That Pepsodent smile enthralls and his every-now-and-then angry outburst, slammed club against the ground or his bag, scowl or disappointed look reminds us of his human side, the one to which we can all relate. Superman has touched Kryptonite. Not often, just occasionally.

The bottom line for golf is that he's back!!! The sport was not floundering but it was not exactly flourishing as much as when the man's presence is in view. It is surprising that Nike has not yet offered out shirts and other attire with the emblematic "He's baaaaaack!" As soon as he wins don't be surprised to see it hit the shelves of Nike outlets and other sporting goods stores.

All eyes are on Tiger Woods, all eyes that follow the game of golf. One of the most recognizable faces on the planet has returned to the game where he was sorely missed. The bar of expectancy is so high that it would be unreachable for most others save a scant few and one must question who they might be other than himself, still small "h" at this stage of life.

You are reading and he is on the driving range. You are contemplating and he is honing in on every sand lie imaginable. You are checking TV schedules and dates and he has putted 1,000 balls today. You might even be looking at the odds for the next few outings, most notably The Masters, and he is trying to figure out the odds of making that shot with the ball just next to the tree or buried in the rough. You are contemplating whether to reach for a three wood or long iron and he is hitting a wedge 160. You are throwing up!

You expect him to win. He did not last week, save for the first match. You excuse that due to the return after the layoff and his first outing. Understood. You will watch carefully at the other tournaments he will choose before Augusta. So will he. His color is green, not for the money it signifies, but for the jacket he wants to add. Do you think he is making the rest of the field nervous right now? You gotta be kidding!

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