Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We often see Goodyear blimps hovering over major sporting events, not the Masters which gets underway this week. Somehow a blimp would seem out of place at the very exclusive Augusta National Golf Club. One thing they do have at this year's Masters is a comeback story. After years of injury and personal scandal, Tiger Woods is the favorite again.

Frank Deford says though this is not a feel-good comeback.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Let us now ponder the exquisite status of Tiger Woods, who has clawed back to the top of the charts, thereby to proclaim, with the help of his Nike mouthpiece, that his ragged and raw past two years never really happened. Because, as his ad says, ta-dah: Winning takes care of everything.

And, yes, indeed, he is No. 1 in the rankings again. And too, he has a beautiful new girlfriend. Although, of course, I will not mention her name here, so as not to be a member of what he calls the stalkerazzi. And yet, and yet that is why his position is so much more intriguing than ever. Really, you see, Tiger only stands perched at the juncture of exhilaration and peril.

We do so love comebacks. In recent years it's even become de rigueur in many sports to anoint the Comeback Player of the Year, along with MVPs and other top dogs. Comebacks are official now. For some reason, we proclaim the nonsense that there are no second acts in American lives. But in contradiction, we live by the studied belief that we are a nation of second chances. Not comeback kids, but comeback grown-ups.

In a real sense, though, Tiger has set himself up for greater possible frustration. For, in his sport, being No. 1 is really secondary. It's like a team winning the regular season but failing in the playoffs. No, in golf, winning one of the four major Grand Slam tournaments is the accepted measure of greatness. All the more so for Woods, who has not won a Grand Slam in almost five years, and whose sublime goal was to win the most majors ever.

How tantalizing it must be for him at this moment. He comes to the Masters, to a familiar course that suits him - hot and confident. Perfect, but - but should he not win, how much more painful. To reach the brink and not succeed is, in any endeavor, far more agonizing than only to march in the middle of the parade. And for Woods, who's been to the mountaintop, it would be even more distressing because each time he fails now the blogerazzi will whistle: Sure, sure, No. 1, but can't win the big one anymore.

The fascinating analogy to Woods would be Andre Agassi, in tennis, who, like Tiger, tumbled from the top with an injury as his marriage crumbled. Agassi plummeted all the way to 141, while Woods only slipped to 58. But Agassi would recover; find love with another famous athlete - sound familiar to you, snooperazzi, and win another Grand Slam after almost five long years, nearly precisely the time it would be for Woods should he win the Masters.

But in celebrity cases - like Agassi, like Woods - the challenge is more tortuous and transparent. To them, it is not comeback. It is get back.

Commentator Frank Deford comes back here each Wednesday.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford