Sorensen: It's golf's gain when Tiger Woods is No. 1

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comMarch 26, 2013 


ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 23: Tiger Woods of the United States holes a putt for eagle at the par 5, 16th hole during the third round of the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard at Bay Hill Golf and Country Club on March 23, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

DAVID CANNON — Getty Images

No matter what you think about Tiger Woods – and there is lots to love and lots to dislike – this is an undeniable fact.

The golf world is a more interesting place with Woods as king of the hill again.

Woods – who will likely play in Charlotte at the Wells Fargo Championship again April 29-May 5, although he has not officially committed yet – reclaimed golf’s No. 1 ranking Monday with a win in Orlando, Fla. He will enter the Masters in April as the favorite, just like in the old days.

A grizzled 37 years old, Woods is long removed from the wunderkind who wowed us. His serial infidelity caused a major scandal and an expensive divorce. Ever since 2009, when he hit that fire hydrant and mistresses started spilling out, it has been impossible to look at him in exactly the same way.

But his golf game is back, and this makes his sport a lot cooler. Woods, who sank as low as No. 58 in the world in November 2011, boosts golf when he’s playing well the way no one else can.

To see him struggle on the course is really not much fun. Those who saw him play the past two times he showed up at Quail Hollow Club – he missed the cut in Charlotte in 2010 and 2012 – know this to be true.

Struggling is just so commonplace in golf. It is the game’s signature, written all over the faces of the mortals who play it. The sinking feeling. The “here we go again” chip over the green. The drive into the water.

To watch Woods excel, though – that is exceptional theater. That’s why he drives TV ratings when in contention on Sunday. That’s why 2007, when he won in Charlotte, was one of the best years of the Wells Fargo Championship’s first decade.

Woods used to be great in Charlotte before those two missed cuts. He has three top-5 finishes at Quail Hollow. When he missed the cut in 2012, he bemoaned what he called his “combo platter” swing. He was upset that he wouldn’t be around for the weekend at what he called “one of my favorite tour stops.”

Woods is healthy once more, dating Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn and has caught and surpassed his golfing peers once again. He has won three times in 2013 already, including back-to-back victories for the first time since 2009. The golfers who are 10 to 15 years younger than he is – the ones who aren’t a bit afraid of him, because they didn’t get beaten by him dozens of times in his prime – now are seeing the Woods they grew up watching on television.

Woods at No. 1 just feels right. When Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer or Lee Westwood are at the top of that list, it just doesn’t seem as important.

Woods still hasn’t won a major since 2008. I’d love to see Rory McIlroy and Woods battle it out at the Masters and beyond. That would be a rivalry with some juice.

For now, though, it is enough to see Woods at the top and realize he’s not going to turn into David Duval, another former No. 1 who lost his game once and never really found it again.

Woods has returned to No. 1. And though he’s no longer the prodigal son, it feels like he’s finally home.

Fowler:; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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