Commentary

Catching up since last we saw Tiger

Originally Published: January 13, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

This is not to suggest we are really keeping track, or counting down the days, or trying to measure just how long it's been since Tiger Woods played golf. But 32 weeks have passed since he last hit a meaningful golf shot.

Sure, you could argue the balls he's been hitting on the range at his Isleworth golf club recently are significant in a different sort of way, the first tangible signs that his return to competition draws near.

But come Feb. 1 -- again, we're not really following it that closely -- when we still don't expect him to be back between the ropes, it will have been 230 days since Tiger hit a golf ball with all the world watching.

And a lot has happened in that world since, golf and otherwise.

A few examples.

Padraig Harrington won two major championships. They happened to be the first two majors Woods missed since turning pro. Asterisk? Perhaps. But Harrington joined some pretty elite company in winning back-to-back majors. Aside from Woods in 2000-01, 2002 and 2006 and Phil Mickelson in 2005-06, you have to go back to Nick Price in 1994 to find someone who won two straight majors.

Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. When Woods won the U.S. Open in June, Obama was not even a sure thing to receive the Democratic nomination. Not only did he claim that, but he won the general election rather easily, giving the United States its first African-American president, something Woods has said he was not sure he'd ever see in his lifetime.

Greg Norman contended at the British Open. Norman, at age 53, was the third-round leader at Royal Birkdale and helped people forget Woods wasn't there. He ended up tied for third behind Harrington. Norman's last major victory came in 1993 -- when Woods was 17.

Brett Favre unretired. He reported to the Packers, was traded to the Jets, and is now mulling the same decision he's pondered in each of the past several offseasons -- whether to return or not. One thing we feel pretty certain about with Woods: When he is done, he will be done.

The U.S. won the Ryder Cup. For the first time since 1999, the Americans defeated the Europeans, and managed to do so without Woods, who has been on just one winning Ryder Cup team. Woods' contributions were sent via frequent text messages to captain Paul Azinger.

The FedEx Cup flopped again. At least in Year 1, Woods' winning took away the sting. This time, Woods could not save it, nor could a very compelling Tour Championship, which had winner Camilo Villegas defeating Sergio Garcia in a playoff, with Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim contending.

[+] EnlargePadraig Harrington
Stuart Franklin/Getty ImagesPadraig Harrington kissed the Claret Jug for a second straight year in 2008 and followed that up with a win at the PGA Championship. But both major wins came with Tiger Woods on the sidelines.
Unfortunately, Vijay Singh had finished his round and claimed the $10 million bonus two hours earlier. Amazingly, Woods led the FedEx Cup points standings heading into the playoffs, despite playing just six tournaments. The good news? The PGA Tour has come up with a better plan for 2009 and Woods figures to be part of it.

Manny being Manny. Tiger's favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, picked up Manny Ramirez and was immediately transformed into a contender. The Dodgers won the National League West and defeated the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the eventual World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies. To win the Series, the Phillies had to knock off the Tampa Bay Rays, whose first season of existence came one year after Tiger had already won a major championship.

John Daly's woes. Since we last saw Tiger, Long John hit a golf ball off a beer can at the Buick Open pro-am; again called out his former coach, Butch Harmon; spent the night in jail when police felt he needed a place to sober up; and was suspended for six months by the PGA Tour. During Tiger's time away, Daly made just two PGA Tour cuts in six appearances, with his best finish a tie for 40th. Come to think of it, Daly hasn't done much at all since Woods defeated him in a playoff at the 2005 American Express Championship.

Hank tried to help Sir Charles. With his prized pupil on the shelf after knee surgery, Hank Haney needed something to do. (Actually, he's quite busy anyway.) So among the things he signed up for was a Golf Channel show in which he tried to improve Charles Barkley's wretched golf swing. What's worse, the expectations that come with helping the best golfer in the world, or the frustration of trying to help possibly the worst?

If nothing else, Tiger should have gotten a chuckle out of it -- although he probably wasn't laughing when Barkley got in trouble recently for a DUI arrest, causing him to take a leave of absence from his basketball analyst gig for TNT.

Davis Love III won Disney. After a tough year following an injury that had Love on the verge of finishing outside the crucial top 125 on the money list, the PGA Tour veteran captured the season-ending Disney tournament for his 20th career win. Love remains the answer to a good trivia question: He is the player Woods defeated in a sudden-death playoff for his first PGA Tour win, in 1996 at Las Vegas.

Annika "retired.'' Although she didn't use that word, Annika Sorenstam stepped away from competitive golf in 2008, while still seemingly at the top of her game. She won three times during the year and contended in several other tournaments while finishing fourth on the LPGA Tour money list. Somehow we get the feeling that is how Woods is going to want to do it.

The world financial markets are in turmoil. While many Americans lost their jobs, watched their homes plummet in value, watched their 401(k)s shrivel and generally observed a gloomy economic future, Tiger Woods earned in excess of $100 million in 2008 and is within another $100 million or so of having earned $1 billion in his career, according to Golf Digest. But Tiger did lose a lucrative endorsement contract with Buick, and you have to figure his net worth took a hit, too.

[+] EnlargeVijay Singh
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesVijay Singh brought home the $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup, but at the same time sucked all the drama out of what was expected to be one of the season's best events.

Florida won the BCS National Championship. But the debate continues. Without a playoff, should the Gators be No. 1? They finished with one loss and defeated Oklahoma. But so did Texas. USC also finished with one loss, its only defeat coming in September. Utah didn't lose at all, but, even after defeating Alabama, got no love despite no shot at playing for the title. At least Tiger's old school, Stanford, didn't figure in the mess this time.

In 2007, the Cardinal knocked off heavily favored USC, ultimately denying the Trojans a shot at the title. We know one thing -- despite his long absence, there is no doubt Tiger is still No. 1 in golf.

Arnie hosted Hope. Before Tiger returns, Arnold Palmer will have served as honorary host of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, as the tournament celebrates its 50th year. Palmer won the tournament five times, including his last PGA Tour title in 1973 -- nearly three full years before Tiger was born.

And that got us to thinking. Woods went approximately six months -- or 180 days -- without hitting full golf shots. Do you think that Arnie, at age 79 and still going strong, has gone that many days in his lifetime without hitting a golf ball?

Again, we're not really counting.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com