By Brandon Niles ExploreBigSky.com Sports Columnist
Say what you want about Tiger Woods, but the world’s most famous golfer is back on top of the world rankings following his eighth victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Woods’ career has had a resurgence over the past year from a slump that began in late 2010 after a series highly publicized affairs ended his marriage.
This is the first time Woods, 37, has held the No. 1 world ranking since October 2010 and many questioned whether his dominance in professional golf was over. He is arguably the greatest golfer in history and currently ranks second all-time in major victories, needing four more to tie legend Jack Nicklaus. Woods also ranks second in career PGA victories, only five behind Sam Snead.
At one point, it was widely accepted that breaking these records was just a matter of time for Woods. After all, in his first five years on tour, he’d already won six majors. However, this discussion waned since his game spiraled downhill, and those four major victories needed to tie Nicklaus seemed further and further out of reach.
Now, Woods is back in the discussion. Though he hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, and injuries and personal issues have tainted his game since, he’ll enter the 2013 Masters tournament as the clear favorite to don the green jacket once again.
It’s hard to ignore that Woods’ resurgence coincides with news that he’s started a relationship with Lindsey Vonn, the famous skier, Olympic gold medal winner, and four-time World Cup champion. Woods and Vonn, 28, have announced their relationship to the public recently, and I believe these two things are connected.
Sure, Woods was injured and made a few drastic changes to his swing along the way, and his marriage couldn’t have been stable, considering the associated infidelity. Still, with the public loving him as a family man and someone to look up to, Woods was able to focus on golf and leave the publicity behind him. After all, he was a golden child from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at age 3 as a golf prodigy. The marriage trouble was the first real struggle he had in the public eye and until then, he was one of the world’s most beloved athletes.
After his home life fell apart and public perception deteriorated, Woods’ game struggled as well. Now Woods has a new relationship with a person America loves. Vonn is a titan of her sport, much like Woods, and has become the face of alpine skiing. The two are already being considered a “power couple” (whatever that means), and the Internet is a flutter with happy photos of them, and optimistic tweets.
It will be interesting to see how Woods does moving forward, but his game seems to be on the right track and his personal life is back in the media for positive reasons. Furthermore, his main competition is Rory McIlroy, who’s struggling so far this year, and even withdrew from The Honda Classic last month due to a toothache (read: temper tantrum) after beginning the tournament seven shots over par. With negativity surrounding McIlroy, the timing is perfect for Woods to regain his position as the world’s most revered golfer. He just needs to keep winning, and stay faithful.