AUGUSTA, Ga. — There are storylines and there are storylines here at Augusta National Golf Club. But one of them, like the man who inspires it, trumps them all.
Welcome to the 2013 Masters.
Welcome to the return of Tiger Woods’ magnificent obsession.
After 3½ years of wandering in a wilderness much of his own creation, Woods truly looks like Woods again.
He’s won three times this year, at favorite venues like Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill. He’s reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the world ranking again after falling to No. 58 in November 2011.
He has his health back. He said he has balance in his life once more after his the salacious sex scandal in November 2009 that totaled his marriage and the image of the Tiger we thought we knew. He has a new relationship with champion skier Lindsay Vonn, which the couple confirmed three weeks ago.
He seems at peace with himself and his world, which didn’t always appear to be the case even when he was dominating golf and winning his 14 major titles.
“Life is better,” Woods said. “Life is better since I’ve had kids.”
His second child, Charlie, was born a year after Woods won his last major, the unbelievably dramatic 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines when he beat Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff while literally playing on a broken leg.
His leg mended, but his life broke apart. Now that all the pieces that Tiger holds dear have been put back together, he’s ready to resume the quest that has driven him since childhood. It is the one thing in a career that holds several lifetimes worth of achievements that remains beyond his grasp.
The No. 1 ranking? He took no time to answer when asked if he would trade it for major title No. 15.
“Absolutely,” Woods said. “Are you kidding me?”
He’s the heavy favorite here, but that’s old news. How many hundreds of times has he been favored?
What adds a fresh twist to Woods’ pursuit of golf history is the inexorable tick of time.
We remember Tiger as the muscular 21-year-old who lapped the field to win here in 1997. But he’s a slightly balding 37 now with two kids and alimony payments.
Most golfers don’t win many majors past their mid-30s. And five majors is a lifetime.
Seve Ballesteros won five majors. So did Byron Nelson.
Win five majors and they will call you great.
Win five more, and they will call Woods the best ever.
Nicklaus, for one, believes Woods will get to 19.
“Obviously the older he gets and if he doesn’t win it, it makes my record move out further,” said Nicklaus, who won the first of his six Masters 50 years ago. “But I continue to say I still expect him to break my record. I think he’s just too talented, too driven and too focused on that.”
Nicklaus had 14 majors at 37 and won four more, capping his career with the 1986 Masters at 46.
Tiger has the ability to pass Nicklaus, but does he have the time?
We’re about to find out.