Commentary

Yes, but what if Tiger won?

Updated: March 26, 2010, 12:06 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Tiger WoodsHarry How/Getty ImagesA comeback win at Augusta would likely put a smile on Tiger's face, as did his 2005 Masters victory.
Enough talk about Tiger Woods' failures.

What if he won?

He didn't kill anybody. Didn't shoot anybody. He didn't hang any dogs, assault any women or fire any caps into his own thigh. He didn't break any laws, other than the one that says you can't drive your car over a hydrant and into a tree. And he paid his $164 fine for that.

What I want to know is: What if he came out of this Seventh Circle of Hell he's living in and … won?

Enough talk about Tiger Woods' apologies. He's apologized to his wife, his kids, his mom, his family, his friends, his colleagues, his commissioner, his sponsors, his scholarship recipients and his students. He's apologized to everybody but his cable guy. The man has begged forgiveness, sworn change and sought help. What else can he do? Walk the Stations of the Cross?

What I want to know is … what if he came to Augusta, his heart held together by about three threads, his nerves in a pretzel and his marriage in a smoldering heap … and won?

Enough talk about Tiger Woods' punishment. How much punishment should one man absorb? He made a bonfire of his life. He might lose his wife and his kids. His deepest, darkest demons have been exposed for the world to read about over morning coffee. He's been the punch line of a thousand jokes, from Indonesia to Indiana.

But what if he pulled himself out of four months in boiling oil and … freaking won?

How are we supposed to react then?

It's possible, you know. From all accounts coming out of Orlando, Woods' game is as sharp as a sushi knife. It's "vintage" right now, according to John Cook, who's been playing with him lately. "I don't see anybody beating him."

"He's killing it, absolutely killing it," Tour player Arjun Atwal told reporters in Orlando. "If he gets that putter going at all, he'll probably win."

Plus, because he's a former Masters champion and in this year's field, Woods could play there every day until Round 1 on April 8. He's already playing practice rounds there. Think that might polish up his game?

If he won at Augusta, how loudly should people cheer? Should the president call him? Should you congratulate a man for climbing out of a hole he dug himself?

My God, what if he won? The mind does a triple salchow. If Tiger Woods comes out of the single nastiest sports scandal since World War II and puts on his fifth green jacket? That would be an 80-point-headline, we-interrupt-this-program, cosmos-rattler.

To win in the middle of all this? To win with people hollering after a 300-yard shot, "Oh, NOW you learn to drive!" And "Hydrant!" And "You da cheetah!"? How loudly should people cheer? Should the president call him? Should you congratulate a man for climbing out of a hole he dug himself?

Would it be more significant than his transcendent 1997 Masters win? No.

Greater than his unthinkable 15-shot win at the 2000 U.S. Open? No.

More steely than his 2008 Open win on one good leg? No.

But it would be unforgettable and astounding and Glenn Beck crazy. It would be one of the most shocking comebacks in sports history. It would be everlasting proof that even though the man didn't stay true, his colossal skills did.

I think he can do it.

Just looking at him in these most recent interviews, he seems like a new man. He seems calm. Seems to have a peace and a patience I've never seen in him. Before, an interview with Tiger Woods was basically you asking a question and him looking for a hole in it to escape through. There was always a smirk ready, a corner-of-the-mouth wisecrack waiting, all his weight on his exit foot.

You: That two-iron you hit under the willow and over the lake to six inches while the photographer was falling into the bunker, how'd you do that?

Woods: It was a three-iron, genius.

Exit stage right.

But in both of his five-minute TV interviews this past Sunday, I saw a different body language. His hands were quiet and clasped in front of him. Usually, they're on his hips. His eye contact was direct. Usually, they're on a tree behind you somewhere. His two-word answers were now suddenly 32. For once, he didn't seem in a hurry to be somewhere else. I'd never thought I'd use this word to describe him, but he seemed "mellow." I'd have asked to see ID.

So bring on the golf, at long last.

I'm itching to watch him do what he does better than anybody does anything anywhere: hit round urethane-covered globs into little holes. Between the knee surgery and Tigertail, we've been robbed of more than a year of Tiger Woods in his prime. That's like losing two '60s Rolling Stones albums, a book of Julia Child's recipes, a roomful of stolen Picassos.

A win wouldn't make him moral or cured or forgiven by his wife. But it would make him immortal. Honestly, just for golf, I'd love to see it. And when it was over, I'd love to see him do something else he hasn't done in forever.

Laugh.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com