Four years ago, Tiger Woods was an icon. At the age of 34, he had already won 22 majors and was arguably the greatest golf player to ever live. His name graced both Nike apparel and video games. Accenture, American Express, and Buick all ran commercials that specifically centered on him. Not only did he earn more than any other athlete in the world (for the ninth year in a row), he earned more than double what his nearest competitors made.
He was one of the biggest celebrities alive, the only professional golfer who most people could mention by name or recognize on the street. He both dominated golf and overshadowed it. People knew who Tiger Woods was, even if they couldn’t distinguish between a birdie and a bogey. That is why, amidst his now-infamous car crash and ensuing cheating revelations, people forget that his departure would have profound implications for the sport in which he made his name.
Tiger Woods may have lost, according to Forbes editor Kurt Badenhausen, "five sponsors, $50 million in annual income, his place atop the world golf rankings, and his marriage." But golf lost its biggest celebrity and strongest competitor, its Michael Jordan its Babe Ruth, and its Tom Brady. After he announced an indefinite break, everyone wondered what would happen in Tiger's absence.
It was an exciting time to be a golf fan, and part of that excitement stemmed from the anticipation of Tiger's return. He came back the following April, tying for fourth in the most famous of all golf tournaments, the Masters at Augusta National. But things soon faltered. Tiger's coach resigned and he finished the season without a single win, a fact that was nearly unthinkable a couple of years prior.
In 2011, Tiger's career tumbled even further, despite having one of the busiest seasons in his career. By November 2011, his rank had dropped to Number 58. The next month, he had his first win in two years and slowly started to recover.
This year, the recovery is almost complete. He regained his position atop the world golf rankings and his position as the highest paid athlete. Only one thing remains between him and his former position: a victory in one of the four major tournaments.
Sunday marks the final round of the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield Golf Links in Scotland and Tiger Woods may have his chance at victory. Lee Westwood currently leads at 3 under. Woods is currently tied for second with Hunter Mahan at 1 under. In a twist of fate, all three have the same coach, and all three will compete on Sunday to decide the victor.
If Woods can win, the symbolism would be significant. Lee Westwood, after all, is the very person who ended Tiger Woods’ nearly 300-weak streak as the number one player in the world. The British Open, furthermore, is the oldest of the four major golf tournaments and takes place in the country that invented golf.
At this point, though, nothing is clear. Mahan had the best round of any player in the field on Saturday. Westwood, in his quest for the lead, hit some truly amazing shots. Woods, however, lost his rhythm at certain points, not to mention that he has never won a major without at least sharing the lead when starting the final round.
Westwood, for his part, has his own potential redemption story. He hopes to win a major for the first time, despite an incredibly strong career. He has placed in the top-3 for seven different majors, the only golfer ever to make it that far without a victory. He would also be the fourth golfer ever to win his first major after turning 40.
Whoever wins, it will lead to some exciting and incredible golf. Yet, the golf may just take second place to the tale of redemption. Both Westwood and Woods are two of the best golfers alive today and both tee off in the hopes of validation only found in victory: one seeking the prize which he was never given and the other seeking the prize he once took for granted.