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FULL-COURT PRESS: Can Tiger find the top again?

Brian Hoxsey
Brian Hoxsey

There are those special athletes, because of special talents in their specific sports, that can make you fork over big money or stop flipping through the channels to watch them perform.

They are icons.

For many sports fans, guys like Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and Tom Brady are just a few who come to mind as professional athletes who have (or had) the ability to keep all eyes on them, with the thought of missing something spectacular as frightening as missing the final day to file your income taxes.

Golfer Tiger Woods still has that flair too ... remember him?

Woods dominated the 2000s as the top-ranked golfer — August 1999 to September 2004 (264 weeks) and again from June 2005 to October 2010 (281 weeks) — but until Friday's second round at the Valspar Championship hadn't led an official PGA event since 2015. He sat in a five-way tie for second place at 4-under par before Saturday's third round.

Since 2009, he has had problems on and off the course. From marital issues to four different surgeries to try an relieve back pain and everything in between, Woods has been obviously absent from the leaderboards and highlights on SportsCenter.

He is arguably the face of golf, and in fact not much surrounding his first three events this year has gone without coverage, despite finishing 12th, tied for 23rd and missing a cut.

Will we see the famous red shirt when this Sunday's final round rolls around?

Can he capture the magic that has led him to 79 previous PGA Tour titles?

Can this be the first big step in Woods' consistent return to being the best of the best?

In this sports writers opinion, my hope would be yes to all three of the above questions.

I've mentioned in this space a few times over the past couple years that playing the game of golf is far from my strong suit. I love the game, but in the times I find to play it, I'm just your typical hacker. However, like many sports I struggle with, I absolutely love watching athletes that can do it well, if not extraordinarily. Woods is a guy that I'll sacrifice an afternoon to watch, and I'm evidently not alone.

The PGA said this in a statement released late of Friday after the PGATOURLIVE.COM app crashed: "Unprecedented traffic during the second round of the Valspar Championship resulted in roughly 25 percent of subscribers losing connection for approximately 25 minutes. We apologize for the disruption and are working to eliminate such issues in the future."

Like any athlete that tries to return after an injury, time will tell if Woods can once again raise a winning trophy or dazzle crowds with his shot-making ability. But if his competitors feel he can, who am I to disagree.

"I don't see (him) going backward from here," Brandt Snedeker told ESPN, with Snedeker being one of those tied with Woods. "The more time he has, he's going to feel better. There have been a lot of positives."

Woods told reporters that he didn't envision himself being in the spot he is after the first two rounds, but the return of his powerful tee shots, sensational play around the green and fantastic putting, lead one (and his counterparts) to think otherwise.

I wrote in a column back in November of my hope that Derrick Rose would find a way to return to the basketball court, and we'll see what his recent signing with the Minnesota Timberwolves will bring, but along with Woods, I hope it works out for both.

Those special athletes, the ones that, even with setbacks, grab your attention. They can never really be counted out, they just seem to find a way.

"I keep getting a little bit better here and there, making these little subtle tweaks and I've done that from tournament to tournament,'' Woods told the media after Thursday's round. "I need to get a little bit more tournament time, and I think I've done that and I'm starting to get a better feel for it.

"I'm hitting the shots. I don't have a problem posting scores — just trying to figure out how to play golf again.''

If he does, wouldn't that be something to see?

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