Can Woods fi­nally rise from the ashes of his ca­reer in Phoenix?

The Herald - Sport - - GOLF - NICK RODGER

SLIP­PERY slopes and down­hill plum­mets? They are phrases that could be used to de­scribe the fluc­tu­at­ing ca­reer for­tunes of Tiger Woods and his ski­ing girl­friend Lind­sey Vonn. At least Vonn has been head­ing in the right di­rec­tion of late. She’s won three of her last four races over the past week on the pistes. Woods, mean­while, looked de­cid­edly piste off. No won­der. He turned up in Italy to watch one of Vonn’s vic­to­ri­ous hur­tles with a tooth miss­ing.

Can the tooth­less Tiger get his bite back in 2015? That’s the ques­tion that’s spew­ing forth as the for­mer world No.1 – with a full com­ple­ment of pearly whites again – makes his first start of the PGA Tour sea­son at to­mor­row’s Waste Man­age­ment Phoenix Open in what is another of his ‘come­back spe­cials’. With the Su­per­bowl also tak­ing place in Phoenix this week, there’s plenty go­ing on in the Val­ley of the Sun. Will it be a new dawn for Woods, though?

The in­ter­est, the in­trigue and the in­fat­u­a­tion will be at fever pitch as ob­servers an­a­lyse ev­ery swing, step and shot with the kind of in­tri­cate de­tail usu­ally re­served for an MRI scan.

For the first time since 2001, Woods is tee­ing up in the Phoenix event as he tries to rise again like, well, a phoenix from the golf­ing ashes. A ten­ta­tive re­turn in the 18-man field con­test­ing the Hero World Chal­lenge in early De­cem­ber was hardly earth shat­ter­ing – he fin­ished 18th.

Given that he had been out of ac­tion since Au­gust prior to that, it was hardly sur­pris­ing he was as rusty as a de­com­mis­sioned frigate but an alarm­ing haul of over six duffed chips dur­ing that World Chal­lenge was, by all ac­counts, the worst short game per­for­mance we have wit­nessed from the 14-time ma­jor win­ner.

He in­sisted his game was “ahead of sched­ule” fol­low­ing an early morn­ing prac­tice round yes­ter­day, con­fi­dent his work with swing coach Chris Como was be­gin­ning to bear fruit.

“It’s great to be back. it’s been a long time since I’ve been back,” he told a press con­fer­ence.

“I had to take a lit­tle break there for a while, a flu bug got me pretty good for another, prob­a­bly, three weeks af­ter­wards.

“I lost a lot more weight so I was fi­nally able to start gain­ing weight again and then start train­ing.

“Over­all, I’m very pleased to go out there and it’s go­ing to be a fun year.”

Woods’s record in his de­but ap­pear­ances of the sea­son down the years makes for im­pres­sive read­ing. Since his first full sea­son on the PGA cir­cuit in 1997, he’s won the first event on his cal­en­dar seven times.

So what can we ex­pect this week? Cer­tainly some frosty glances be­tween Robert Al­lenby and the press pack after the Aus­tralian called a press con­fer­ence to blast all and sundry yes­ter­day fol­low­ing the me­dia’s re­port­ing of his bizarre ‘kid­nap­ping’ ca­per at the Hu­mana Chal­lenge.

But as for Woods? Some will say there is more like­li­hood of him em­u­lat­ing the share of 80th place he had in his first event of 2014 than there is of him barg­ing into the top-10. The ques­tion that tends to pop up th­ese days is not “will he win the tour­na­ment?” but rather “will he make the cut?”

If he makes the cut then a solid fin­ish would be seen as a pos­i­tive step in the right di­rec­tion.

Here we go again.

CHANGED TIMES: Rather than ‘will he win the tour­na­ment?’ the ques­tion that seems to pop up for Tiger Woods th­ese days is ‘will he make the cut?’

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