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Bruce DowbigginIt’s hard to find someone who doesn’t disapprove of his antics away from the office. Women, in general, can’t stand him. Despite all this, we can’t take our eyes off him.

Donald Trump? Maybe. But the description could also apply to Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer ever, who has made one of the more improbable comebacks in the past month. Last weekend renewed the public’s crush on golf’s bad boy.

Woods’ behaviour away from the course since his fall from grace in 2009 has been, shall we say, dubious. From the moment his wife Elin Nordegren brought down a golf club on Tiger’s ride, he has suffered through a biblical plague of problems.

The problems included injuries that ended in spinal fusion (one of four surgeries since 2014), failed romantic relationships and an arrest for drugs last year. Plus numerous comebacks all ended in humiliation. Until last weekend’s tournament outside Tampa, he hadn’t broken par in the opening round of a PGA Tour event since his 64 in the Wyndham Championship in August 2015.

He started Sunday without having won a tournament in four years, seven months and 10 days – that from a man who has won 79 PGA Tour titles over his career. He’d closed hard on Saturday on the heels of young Canadian Corey Conners. And while Conners melted in the heat of a closing Sunday (he shot a 77), Woods almost pulled off the comeback.

He lost a shot to par early on. But after a long birdie on No. 17, his putt on 18 would’ve tied him for the lead. The putt came up just short, leaving him a stroke behind winner Paul Casey. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand the whole day – hell, the whole weekend – and they were limp when the ball came up just short. No less so than the NBC announcers who, if they mentioned the crowd’s enthusiasm once, mentioned it a jillion times.

It was the closest Woods has come to winning since he tied for second at the 2013 Barclays, the first FedEx Cup playoff event. He has not played in that season-ending playoff series since.

Immediately, the media critics, who had buried him six feet deep, were repenting. There are now predictions that he will win this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and  – miracle! – the Masters in early April.

A few cautionary notes. Woods’ in recent years demise corresponded with his inability to keep his driver in play. He sprayed it left. He sprayed it right. His creative genius in scrambling could only save him for so long. His success last weekend resulted from hitting a lot of driving irons and hybrids off the tee.

It was a wise strategic decision on the tight layout at the Valspar Championship, although he’s caught flak for passing up the driver on No. 18. Copperhead was a terrific course for him to display his unparalleled genius. How he will play on courses that require him to hit a lot of straight drivers will be the litmus test of just how far back he has come.

He’ll need that distance because, while last weekend contained some top echelon players – Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy were in the field – he’ll need to keep up with bombers Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson when he heads back to Augusta.

Still, it’s a tantalizing prospect to envision the four-time Masters champ traipsing up No. 18 at Augusta National on a Sunday with a chance to win again. And if he does, huge swaths of American society will not care a whit that he’s a moral catastrophe. Despite the efforts of the scolds, grownups will separate the man from his misbehaviour. They want the dream.

It’s a fact that’s lost on the anti-Trump hysterics who think that, if they can discover just one more moral failing in the president, the scales will fall from the eyes of the American public. But as Tiger shows, it doesn’t work that way once the public has baked in the essence of the man. They know what they’re getting and they can live with the contradictions.

Sort of like how liberals excuse the behaviours of Roman Polanski and Woody Allen so long as they keep making great movies.

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Finally, a a note on young Conners who, for three rounds at least, took the best that the Tour and Copperhead could hand him, and still led by one shot heading into Sunday. Yes, it came apart in an ugly way with a large Canadian contingent on hand to root him on. But that’s the nature of the Tour for mere mortals who must be humbled before they know how to finish a win.

Matching Canadian Adam Hadwin (who won last year at Valspar) would have brought Conners a trip to Augusta and other perks. His precipitous fall down the leaderboard on Sunday cost him money, FedEx points and confidence. It was reminiscent of Stephen Ames getting bludgeoned in match play by Woods before he finally won on Tour.

It also stung because, while Conners may get there again, we know that Canadian veterans Graham DeLaet and David Hearn have yet to convert their chances at wins.

So last week was not to be. But Conners has game and if his mental approach is as strong as it appears to be, he will get another chance to join Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes and  Nick Taylor as recent Canadian winners on Tour.

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.

tiger woods, golf

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