Friday, April 8, 2011

Woods Strikes Back with Swagger: No Need to Sugarcoat It

Suddenly, he was pumping his fist. Gazing with the most intimidating facial expression in sports, stares and emotions Tiger Woods exposes when he's full of swagger poised to return to prominence.

He walked and dominated the green at Augusta, roaring back into the invincible name we were once familiar with on the graceful course as the crowd roared after he posted a convincing round -- after he was more intriguing than the azaleas and the large population that gathered in portable seats in Amen Corner to witness the exquisite scenery of a placid cabin with a stone chimney secluded behind a cluster of trees, dogwoods and azaleas -- but more than ever, to seemingly watch Woods strike back into contention.

This was for the doubters and disbelievers who've berated Woods. The state of Woods' odds in winning the 2011 Masters has created a discussion, particularly when he has climbed back near the top of the leaderboard, impressing his critics and supporters with his emotions and dominance. If he ever expects to move forward, thus in the guise of his tattered reputation that ruined respectability amidst the sex scandal and infidelity against his ex-wife, alleged text messages exchanged with bimbos and mistresses and planes flying overhead with insulting banners, Woods needs to return to usual form by seeking another green jacket before the weekend is over.

The crowd followed Woods and pulled for a romantic comeback and dramatic afternoon at Augusta. His swagger is back, but in reality, he is nonetheless labeled a serial cheater and a womanizer who was addicted to sexual activities with nearly every bimbo. And even if he falls short of winning his 15th major title this season, another green jacket in which he would instantly inch closer towards the legendary Jack Nicklaus' record-setting 18 major titles, he is refocused for a colossal challenge, an opportunity to discard the nightmares that surfaced from his horrific and formidable scandal.

It stunned the world heavily, with all the uncharacteristic allegations that suddenly were publicly divulged truthful. And ever since, Woods, once the world's most premier golfer and one of the best athletes on the planet, he has lost tremendous respect with a status that remained in uncertainty. Now more than ever, excelling in one of the enjoyable competitions in a tradition unlike any other, Woods is looking brilliant, combative and confident. What's on his to-do list might be to stand as the superior one in the Masters, and reclaim the greatest prize in one of the resplendent traditions in sports during the spring.

He is finally back in contention, almost charmingly, within striking distance to finish atop the leaderboard by dinner time on Saturday evening in the friendly confines where a famous golfer with much experience and assurance can card a perfect round. The demise of one spectacular player is delayed and balloons plenty of optimism for Woods. For instance, he believes he'll surpass Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, a historic mark that could define him as the greatest to ever take a swing on the course throughout an acclaimed career.

Within such a recognized span, which includes 14 Major golf championships and 95 titles in his awesome career and 71 on the PGA tour, he is back to his usual self and seems unbeatable only if he claims the lead in the next couple days. It sure looks as if Woods, on the warmest day for the Masters, played splendidly and proved doubters wrong by staying unflappable and focus on the fairways in the hardest round of the tournament, an unpredictable game that makes it easier for some, and I say some, to cheer on the embattled iconic figure.

It was about the growth of the youngest cast. That is what the Masters came down to, until Woods hatched from a cocoon of struggles and renovated hope, two years removed from his grisly scandal. The world stopped when the scandal revealed, stunned with the revelations by the world's most likable sports figure. But now, the masses pause for a four-day honeymoon to glorify Woods as if he's done no wrong, as if he's still the spotless athlete we adored and as if he's well in his prime.

When Woods represents the Masters by amazing the spectators in a lovely fashion, by wearing his stylish Nike wardrobe without using obscene language to release his frustration, he brings in a relentless feel, a feel of high spirits and verves. Critics were fooled by his speedy comeback. Hell, I was fooled by Woods on the day his figurative statement made cynics and skeptics forget about his extramarital affairs with porn stars, pancake house waitresses and V.I.P women. The question is, can he come out with the same type of swings for another day or will he vanish into the darkness again, and disappoint the true believers?

You never know with Tiger. You never know in this erratic sport, you just never know. But we all know by now that he had a strong and convincing surge in front of thousands sitting in the galleries -- where often inexplicably --he was bestowed adulation and boasted his chances by climbing the leaderboard unexpectedly. In his divine run, with a widened smile that we haven't seen in a long time, he birdied six of eight holes in a stint and finished with a staggering 66 to place him in contention.

The repercussions of disappointment were at large, but he alarmed the gallery and the people were enthusiastic watching him roar back into conversations for a green jacket by Sunday. Nothing was ever promised to Woods, but he really was in a groove and made the lengthy par putts. It came on the par-4 11th, when Tiger shot his birdie put short, and then rolled the par putt in the middle of the hole and performed his customary fist pump. After all of this, in which he threatens any golfer in the lead and could probably take a commanding lead, only if he doesn't stumble in the next two days, he sank a birdie putt for the 18th.

Tied for third, once he made it, the crowd erupted into the most storming ovation in the second round. It doesn't mean he'll win, but he does put fear in the hearts of the youngsters, pulling three shots of Rory McIlroy. But it was clearly his best round, and finally, he shot a 6-under 66 in the second round, stunning and catching our eyes after discarding the mediocrity and playing like the old Tiger. Fellow golfers are closely keeping an eye on Woods, particularly the leader McIlroy, who is boldly admitting that he can beat him in these Masters and isn't scare to flirt with his mind.

"I'll just be concentrating on the golf course," McIlroy, 21, said when asked about Woods. "If you start thinking about anyone else here, you can -- if you let your mind wander at all, it can cost you a couple of shots. I'll be focusing on my targets and focusing on where I want my ball to go on the greens, and that's all I can do. I don't really care what anyone else does. I don't need to know. So it will be great for the tournament if he's up there. But I'm two shots ahead and I'm in a better position."

Is he cocky or a competitor?

He is a competitor, not intimidated by the presence of the greatest golfer who is on decline, no longer as efficient. It's not telling whether Woods is back or not, but we'll know by Saturday for sure. We'll know if he's back or not. We'll know if he's for real or just having a bunch of luck.

For now, though, he is striking back.