Players Championship 2013: The return of Tiger Woods

Richard Heathcote

A favorite, and annoying, question frequently asked among golf fans is whether or not Tiger Woods is "back". Following his victory at the 2013 Players Championship, that question has been laid to rest.

Writing about Tiger Woods can be pretty tedious.

When things are going well for him, the headlines come easy. You basically have a template from which to work for every tournament Tiger wins. Just delete the name and city of the previous victory and type in the info from his latest achievement. The story often remains the same; we just need to fill in the details. Such has been the case for most of Tiger's career.

However, when times got rough for Woods -- specifically around a now infamous Thanksgiving fire hydrant incident in 2009 -- fans watched what could have been the biggest downfall of a star athlete since, well, ever. Perhaps only Lance Armstrong's monumental decline two years later was worse by comparison.

Tiger lost sponsors, confidence and hundreds of thousands of fans. For the first time in his spectacular career, Tiger Woods' worth came into question. Many believed he would never be the same. Many were convinced he would never be "back".

I still shudder at that phrase. It has become similar to nails on a chalkboard. It makes my skin crawl. So, let's finally lay the question of "Is Tiger back?" to rest once and for all. To do so, we have to start in the beginning.

When Woods reached the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in June 1997, he had already won his first major championship -- The Masters -- two months prior. He also had five professional victories under his belt by that time, cementing himself firmly into the minds of golf fans around the globe. Woods was much more than just "the next big thing" and even more than the popular "oh my god, he's a black golfer and he's dominating everyone" astonishment many fans felt.

Tiger Woods began showing signs of becoming a monumental sports figure, a gift to the world as predicted by his own father, Earl, toward the beginning of Tiger's career.

By the time he reached No. 1 for a second time in August 1999, Woods was on the brink of iconic status. He would hold that ranking for 264 consecutive weeks, a record that he would ultimately break when he reclaimed the top ranking in June 2005 and kept it for an additional 281 weeks, until October 2010.

Woods reached the No. 1 ranking for a third time on March 25, 2013 after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His throne got a little taller after this weekend.

Still, Tiger Woods will not be remembered for his World Golf Ranking status. He will be remembered for winning golf tournaments. In that regard, only one man -- Sam Snead -- has done that more than Woods. That record will likely fall at some point over the next two years. Hell, maybe even by Christmas.

Tiger now has four wins in the 2013 PGA Tour season and is at 78 career victories following his triumph at this past weekend's Players Championship. He has won seven times in his last 21 starts, or a third of the tournaments he has played in that stretch. When looking at the totality of his career, Tiger has been victorious in over 25 percent of the events in which he's played.

Step away from your computer monitor or laptop. Sit back and reflect on that statistic. I'll wait for you. Take your time.

Are we back? Good. Let's continue.

There's this ridiculous mentality that sports fans embrace when talking about the past. Whatever sports achievement that is happening in present day can never, ever, EVER be as good as what happened in the past. As a lifelong Chicagoland resident, I am surrounded by Chicago Bears fans who will remain convinced that the 1985 Super Bowl team will always be better than the current team, now or any time in the future. Yesteryear's greatness will always be better than today's hot streak. Perhaps that is because people want to hang on to memories more than realizing what is happening directly in front of them.

Oddly enough, people are doing the exact same thing with Tiger Woods' career.

Following his third victory of the season at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, I published a snarky Unofficial 'Is Tiger Back?' Haters Checklist. Originally prompted by an office conversation, the snippet was meant to be more tongue-in-cheek than anything. Despite winning for the fourth time in six starts, including what many golf pundits deem the unofficial fifth major, I'm not convinced people will finally let go of ... well, whatever it is that they're holding on to about Old Tiger.

Let me make this very easy for anyone reading this piece: it is OK to fully embrace Tiger Woods being "back."

I feel like this will be a major step for many golf fans. Out of pure stubbornness, or contempt, or some backwards type of reality disconnect, some fans will hang on to their belief that the Tiger Woods of today is not "as good" as the Tiger Woods of before. It seems the fact that Woods hasn't won a major since 2008 is the last straw dissenters are grasping for.

As if the 14 majors he won previously mean nothing anymore. Nor the 78 previous victories. I don't understand it.

Now is the time to leave the past where it belongs and to open your eyes to what is happening right here, right now, in front of the entire golfing world.

They say that a talent the likes of Tiger Woods comes once every generation. How lucky are we to have the opportunity to witness it for a second time?

More on The Players

Tiger, Sergio spar over distraction

Tiger earns the biggest payout in golf

Sergio splash: Spaniard finds water 3 times in 2 holes (GIFs)

John Daly's legal advice for Vijay Singh

Stenson plays from the bridge

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