You've heard the naysayers. You may even be among those who believe Tiger Woods will never again rule the professional golf world as he did at the turn of the millennium.
It's hard to argue after the world's hottest golfer went ice cold over the past six seasons. An ugly divorce and a series of surgeries have resulted in Woods looking merely mediocre by comparison to his early accomplishments. And at age 39, his best years may indeed be behind him.
But to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, another American superstar who saw a second career surge late in his life, “Rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated.” As Woods prepares to tee off on the 2015 season, we offer five reasons Tiger will once again rise to the top of the golf charts:
1. A healthy Tiger is a wealthy Tiger, but we really haven't gotten to see either since 2008. In addition to surgeries on his knee and back, Woods has dealt with injuries to his Achilles tendon, leg and neck.
But for the first time since 2012, when Woods had five wins and regained the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings, Tiger will tee off in 2015 with a clean bill of health. It's not like he has forgotten to play golf since then, so it shouldn't be much of a stretch to expect him to contend for tournament titles.
“As for my 2015 golf season, I'm mostly excited about being healthy again,” Woods said in a statement on his web site. “I've struggled for the past year-and-half with my back, and it showed in my results. Even though I won five times two years ago, it was hit or miss some weeks and got progressively worse.”
2. Tiger's hiring of new swing coach Chris Como already appears to be paying off. In last month's Hero World Championship, Woods hit his driver straight and long, for the most part, and had similar results with his irons.
Tiger has struggled with the driver in recent years, so any improvement in that area should pay early dividends. Side-by-side comparisons show his new swing is more long and free-flowing, much closer to his stroke early in his career than in recent years under Sean Foley.
If Tiger starts feeling enough confidence in his new style to start swinging for the fences, Rory McIlroy and the young guns on the PGA Tour had better watch out.
3. Like most golfers returning from a neck and back surgery, Tiger was limited by his doctors to chipping and putting when he began his rehab, so it only stands to reason that he should be stronger in those areas, at least early in his comeback.
Although Tiger has likely been putting in more time on his full swing lately, his short game should be solid at the very least. Hiccups in his short game are very correctable with a little extra work and are usually the difference between birdies and bogeys.
Woods is one of the few players who incorporates aspects of his full swing into the short shots, so he could be on the verge of a surge if and when it all comes together.
4. Say what you want about Tiger's health or his age, but the fact remains that he is the ultimate competitor. Anyone with the drive to accomplish the long list of firsts on his resume also has the drive to rise back to the top against the odds.
Tiger will have plenty of competition to bring out the best in his game. McIlroy has a firm grasp on Woods' No. 1 ranking, and other up-and-comers, like 21-year-old Jordan Spieth, stand in the way of Woods and the total domination he once enjoyed on the links.
But like any true competitor, whether it’s boxing's Muhammad Ali, tennis' Jimmy Connors or basketball's Tim Duncan, the will to win only intensifies with age.
5. Many believe Woods has a date with destiny. That's only important because Tiger is one of those believers.
Woods enters 2015 only three victories short of Sam Snead's record of 82 PGA Tour victories and four shy of Jack Nicklaus' mark of 18 major titles – goals Tigers has had pinned to his bedroom wall since he was a kid. If that's not enough for you, just ask the guy he's chasing.
“I still think he'll break my record, as long as he is physically able to do it,” Nicklaus said last month. “He's (39) years old and he's probably got another 10 years at least of being able to compete. That's 40 more majors to win five of them. It shouldn't be too difficult. But then again, I've always said, he's just gotta do it.”