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After Dramatic Downfall, Tiger Woods Might Finally Be Making A Comeback


It wasn't long ago that Tiger Woods was golf's greatest player and a global sports icon. His dramatic downfall is well-known as a sex scandal and injuries knocked him off his pedestal, many thought for good. But now Woods is in the midst of perhaps an equally dramatic comeback. From Orlando, Fla., NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Tiger Woods has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando eight times. But yesterday's first round of the 2018 tournament may have been one of his most significant because it felt like a final round.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible), Tiger.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Tiger - all day.

GOLDMAN: The Tiger calls started with Woods' opening tee shot on a cold Orlando morning. The cheers built as the temperature and Woods heated up.


GOLDMAN: His second birdie in as many holes put Woods at the top of the leaderboard for a while, a familiar position if you forget the last five years. It's been that long since he won a tournament - not surprising considering how his back finally betrayed him after years of violent, high-speed golf swings. His five years of wandering in the golf desert were marked by surgeries and abortive comebacks and even embarrassing flubbed shots that had weekend golfers gleefully exclaiming, hey, I can do that. And then April of last year, Woods had his fourth back surgery.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: An anterior lumbar interbody fusion - please explain to us what exactly that means.

GOLDMAN: The surgery, explained on the Golf Channel, worked so far. This golf season, Woods has been pain-free, and his results have followed. In the last couple of months, in this order, he's finished 23rd, 12th and last week second, sending golf TV ratings to their highest level in five years - so not surprising the gallery following Woods in Orlando yesterday was kind of huge.

CHARLIE AVERY: It's bananas up here, man. The crowds are seven, eight deep already, you know?

GOLDMAN: Charlie Avery from Atlanta was taking a break from the mob. He stood next to a fairway, watching Woods from a distance. Avery has seen this scene before. He's come to this tournament at Bay Hill Golf Club for the past 16 years. What's different this time around, he says, is Woods.

AVERY: I think now he have a better outlook on golf and life in general. You can tell by his aura, you know? He smiles more, you know? He's more in-tune.

GOLDMAN: Woods would agree.


TIGER WOODS: I feel like I am not really thinking as much around the golf course. I can just see it, feel it and go. I've got my feels back again.

GOLDMAN: Woods' interactions with reporters, historically prickly, seem smoother as well as long as you don't push too hard. After his round Thursday, he bristles when asked whether his recent success meant higher expectations.


WOODS: The narrative has completely flipped from how you guys ask me questions. And I just want to just remind you guys that it wasn't that long ago that you were asking a different set of questions.

GOLDMAN: But in our defense, it has been a dramatic shift from wondering if Woods will ever play again - and even he doubted whether he could pull out of the injury tailspin - to, can he win this week? While he was largely absent from the tour, a new crop of young golf stars emerged and thrived. Is there room now for Woods to rejoin them? Tour player Patrick Reed says absolutely.


PATRICK REED: Just the electricity that goes around the entire place when he's playing well - it just seems to kind of elevate. And hopefully I can continue playing some solid golf and see him late on Sunday.

GOLDMAN: Woods may not make it this Sunday. Halfway through the Bay Hill tournament, there's some distance between him and the leaders, but it hasn't killed the buzz. During his first round Thursday, Las Vegas oddsmakers made Woods the favorite to win next month's Masters - seems crazy, but so did the idea that Tiger Woods would be playing and contending once again. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.