Tiger Woods came roaring back to life Sunday afternoon at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Bay Hill, Fla., just as the tournament’s namesake was rushed to the hospital because of high blood pressure. It was to be a monumental moment: the legend Arnie giving comeback kid Tiger a champion clamp on the back after he sank his first tournament-winning putt in nearly three years—another unexpected in Tiger’s life in the two-plus years that have taught golf fans to expect the unexpected when it comes to Mr. Woods.
But just as Tiger’s persistent sexting habit, formed during his days of infidelity, shocked anyone who knew of his name, his win Sunday—the first time he had captured a PGA Tour event since triumphing at the BMW Championship in September 2009—should come as no shock to any of us. What’s the big deal about Tiger’s comeback? Plainly: there isn’t one.
Since the first reports of Woods crashing into a fire hydrant and a tree in the family SUV came in November 2009, Tiger’s meticulously constructed world became violently shattered. First there were the whispers of fighting with his wife. And then the cheating. The voicemails. The sexting. He was Anthony Weiner before Anthony Weiner was, well, Anthony Weiner.
Once known as the sport’s “most marketable man” for being a minority, a jock, a golfer, a father, and a good guy all at once, Woods saw his world turned upside down since he stepped away from the game in early 2010 to deal with his ongoing marital problems blown open by that bizarre November night.
He returned to golf with a chip on his shoulder and a dark cloud following him around on the emerald fairways of the sport. He tied for fourth two years running at the Masters, and last November watched as his preordeal ranking plummeted from No. 1 to No. 58 in the world. For Tiger, it was learning to play a new sport: golf after “the Incident.” His legs felt heavier; his misses felt bigger. He lost a longtime coach and fired a trusted caddy. Woods had to learn to play the game as if he were just taking it on while having the ability gained playing for more than 30 years. Let’s just call the two years his teenage-angst period.
So as Woods has found his footing again, the man who has had to deal with millions of dollars in losses in endorsements, a failed marriage, international shaming for cheating on his wife—Woods has only grown stronger through all of this adversity as time has passed, giving him more weapons to use on golf’s greatest stage than he had before.
Steve DiMeglio, a golf writer for USA Today, was in Bay Hill to witness Woods’s win Sunday, and says the roar in Tiger will only grow louder.
“We in the golf media that see him from week to week agree he looks as comfortable as he has since driving over the fire hydrant,” DiMeglio told The Daily Beast in an email. “He believes in what he is doing with his swing and the rest of the game, and I think with each passing week, as his life continues to find more solid ground, he’ll get better and better.”
Much like Hollywood, sport loves a good comeback story, and they are innumerous: Michael Jordan’s three-peat for the Bulls in the mid-’90s rings a bell (let’s not talk about the attempted Wizards effort); tennis players Monica Seles and Andre Agassi made second careers for themselves after vastly different absences from the game; and Dara Torres was 41 (41!) when she swam to Olympic silver at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The fact is this: a good athlete is groomed to shoot down challenges, whatever they may be. Tiger Woods had a golf club in his hands by age 2 and played putt-putt with Bob Hope on TV. Earl Woods made sure that it was in his son’s blood to rise above the challenge—to ensure his blood was as cold as ice—and Tiger’s is just now reaching freezing level once again.
“He’s miles ahead of his peers in this generation of players,” DiMeglio writes of Woods, who is 36. “And now that the drought on the PGA Tour is over, he knows, and his peers know, his days of unparalleled success could return. He’s been close recently. [If he stays healthy] he will be there in the mix every week from here forward.”
Arnold Palmer or no Arnold Palmer, golf took note of Woods’s roar on the 18th green Sunday afternoon, first a contained “Yeah!” and then an unbridled “Woooo!”—as he strode the green in his signature red Nike shirt. Once again, Tiger is back on the prowl, and golf’s most dangerous swinger seems to have just begun resharpening his claws.