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Write Tiger Off At Your Own Peril

As preposterous as this might sound, the leading candidate for 2011 Comeback Player of the Year on the PGA Tour is none other than Tiger Woods. And he’s turning the wrenches on that rebuild as we speak.

With no apologies to commissioner Tim Finchem or the presenting sponsor, Woods is no more interested in the FedEx Cup than he is in giving interviews. He does both because he has to, not because he’s feeling particularly magnanimous.

Because we’ve run out of major championships, the only event remaining on the 2010 schedule that Woods has his gaze on is the Ryder Cup. Forget all the pundits who cast doubt on whether U.S. captain Corey Pavin will use one of his four picks on Woods on Tuesday. He’ll be chosen, no matter how he’s playing. It will be because he means millions of dollars to the Ryder Cup and the PGA of America is not about to lose all that revenue.

So, in order to justify Pavin’s pick, Woods has gone into overdrive – almost in a panic – to repair the sorry state of his game.

He played in the Barclays two weeks ago and the Deutsche Bank Championship last week not because he wanted to win either or both of the tournaments, no matter what he says in the press or on television. He was in the field so he could get more reps in game situations, working on the swing changes that he and new instructor Sean Foley are collaborating on.

So, pay no attention to the start Woods made in the first round of the Deutsche Bank – 4 over in his first six holes, on his way to a 1-over 72 on a day when most of the 99-player field was blistering TPC Boston. No, he has bigger things on his mind.

The one event that Woods has been accused of not being all that excited about is the Ryder Cup. His record is not sparkling – 10-13-2. In fact, it’s downright embarrassing to someone of his star power. But you can gamble your last $2 on the idea that the Ryder Cup will get Woods’ absolute and undivided attention.

On paper, Woods has absolutely nothing to prove. He has won 71 PGA Tour events and 14 major championships. His playing record is unassailable. But it’s his personal legacy that will need some repair and short memories. By embracing the Ryder Cup – and being the star, for once – will go miles toward activating the public’s forgetters.

The most high octane, flag-waving spectacle in golf will be the perfect venue for Woods to stage his return to the pinnacle of big-time golf. He’s going to get there for a number of reasons.

First, the divorce is final. You can’t play professional tournament golf with visions and voices of lawyers and accountants dancing in your head. Everyone suspected the divorce was coming and he would never talk about it. But it’s public now; it’s over. Any time there’s a divorce, it’s sad for the parties involved and it’s even sad for all those who count themselves as Woods’ fans. But we move on.

Second, he has a new swing coach. Foley is direct and no nonsense, both qualities that Woods is bound to like. And, Foley is not all that enamored with the aura of Woods, whether it has been shattered or not. That’s a good thing for Tiger, as well. Foley seems to be in charge of this relationship, which was not always the case with Woods’ previous instructors.

Third, he’s practicing again. While the terms of the divorce were being hammered out by the suits, Tiger said he was spending most of his available time with his children, which you could believe or not. But now that regular visitation has been determined, Woods can structure his days as he once did. According to Foley, Woods is practicing eight hours a day when he’s home, which impressed the not-easily impressed Foley.

Woods is a swing geek and he wants to know every move and every position of the golf swing. The swing changes Woods has undergone in his career have been well-documented. He struggled with each incarnation but his results have never been this lousy.

If he gets to the point where he can go out and just play again, the results will come. Maybe it won’t ever be the same again and if that’s the case, it’s not all bad. We’ll still have the year 2000.

But the Tiger Era is far from over. While Woods doesn’t scare people – at the moment – he’s still the greatest player of this generation and until someone plays worth a flip, he’s still the world No. 1, let us not forget. Rory McIlroy was quoted as hoping he’ll get a piece of Tiger at the Ryder Cup, just to show he can be had.

Be careful what you wish for. Just ask Stephen Ames.


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