By Steve Silverman
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While most of the attention this weekend will be on the NCAA tournament, keep an eye on the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
For most observers, he won’t be back to being the “old Tiger” until he wins another major. He’s been stuck on 14 since he won the U.S. Open in 2008, defeating Rocco Mediate in a playoff while competing with a knee that would go under the surgeon’s knife shortly thereafter.
Since then, Woods has had a slew of problems both on and off the course. Perhaps you are familiar with a few of his extra-curricular activities that led to his divorce from Elin Nordegren, the Swedish beauty and former nanny.
Woods’ game fell apart for a couple of years. In addition to his off-the-course problems, Woods has battled a series of injuries that robbed him of his consistency and accuracy.
But Woods, 37, is once again playing stellar golfer. He was the No. 2 golfer on the tour last year behind wunderkind Rory McIlroy. Woods won three tournaments last year, although none of them were majors.
He has already finished on top in two tournaments this year and has served notice that he has his mind set on earning that 15th major championship.
He can also return to No. 1 status in the world if he can win at Bay Hill this weekend. He will bypass McIlroy and get back to the top.
After a first round score of 69 that puts him 3-under par (tied for third place), Woods has an excellent chance of getting right back into the winner’s circle again.
The great strength of Woods’ game is his hunger. Not simply a hunger to be the best or be recognized as one of the game’s greats, but simply to be the best golfer he can be.
His challenge is not to top Sam Snead’s record for total PGA wins (82) in his career or Jack Nicklaus’s total of 18 major championships, it is to be the best golfer he can be.
He wants to play the perfect hole, the perfect round and the perfect tournament. He wants to eliminate mistakes and he won’t be satisfied until he gets there.
He never will and he knows that intellectually. But that’s what separates Tiger from the other great golfers – with the possible exception of Nicklaus. They all want to win and beat the other great players. Tiger wants to be better today than he was yesterday and he wants to be better tomorrow than he was today.
Every day. Every month. Every year. Throughout his career.
Few athletes have ever had his hunger. Michael Jordan comes quickly to mind, but basketball players can only go so long. There are so many physical talents that start to wane in even the best athletes once they get into their 30’s.
Jordan was unstoppable and LeBron may be at that point now. But eventually, someone younger, faster, stronger and hungrier will get the best of him.
Golfers, too, face a shelf life. But it’s not the same thing. If Woods can stay away from new injuries and old distractions, he should be able to remain at a peak level well into his 40s.
One thing that Woods doesn’t have to worry about his running out of fuel for his fire. He’s not interested in getting back to his previous form.
“I don’t want to become as good as I once was,” he said prior to the start of the first round. “I want to become better.”
Love him or not, you can’t take your eyes off of Tiger Woods on the golf course.
He’s worth watching, even during the first weekend of March Madness.
Will 2013 be Tiger’s big comeback year? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…