2012 will be the Year of Tiger

Tiger Woods will make his season debut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. (AFP)

Tiger Woods will make his season debut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. (AFP)

IAN HUTCHINSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Perception is reality, so I’m obligated to declare this the Year of the Tiger, with his heralded 2012 debut on the world and PGA Tour stages, respectively, coming up.

Tiger Woods kicks off the season at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and follows with the AT&T Pebble Beach event. The swoon-and-sigh begins and little else matters in golf.

Calling it the Year of the Tiger isn’t merely hyperbole.

As he struggled the past few years, it was also that, but this time, Woods’ adoring fans, TV commentators, bloggers, columnists, tour officials and publicity types have a hook on which to hang their early-season speculation about him being “back.”

Everything is magnified when it involves Tiger, whether it’s his victory-clinching singles win for the United States after a mediocre Presidents Cup, or his win at the hardly-matters Chevron World Challenge last month.

It is fair to say the former world No. 1 has admirably turned a corner, but defining it as a complete U-turn from his downward spiral the past couple of years is premature. However, the addiction to the Tiger of a previous era means golf won’t settle for anything less.

Whatever step forward he takes this season will be amplified by those who adore him.

A couple of Woods victories — the same number as Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Luke Donald and Nick Watney last year — will satisfy that need to trumpet Woods’ return to exalted status.

If he should happen to win a major, it will seem like the Tiger Slam all over again, but even if he doesn’t, a couple of wins will be enough to declare it the Year of the Tiger on hype alone.

Is he able to deliver those wins and even a major? Of course.

By the end of last season, he seemed to have glued all necessary working parts — physical, confidence, swing changes with Sean Foley, etc. — into something that resembles the Tiger we used to know.

There’s no reason to believe he can’t keep building upon that, so it won’t be a surprise if Woods becomes a top-tier PGA Tour player again, but it won’t be enough for him to be a worthy adversary and complement to the rising stars on the tour and around the world.

His talents are still acknowledged, but his aura of invincibility has vanished among many of his new rivals who have appeared since his glory days. They’re not genuflecting like the adoring masses outside the ropes.

The tour that Woods once dominated now has a deeper talent pool filled with predators ready to take on the biggest dog in the yard and it insults the staunchest Tiger cubs that young guys also want to succeed and show respect, but not fear, of their man.

Woods’ game may be rounding into shape, but his success won’t be entirely dependent upon his own actions. Increasingly, there will be someone returning the infamous Tiger glare with the talent to back it up.

Definitely, having Woods back as a premier talent, if that’s what happens, is good for the game, but it’s even better when there are so many legitimate rivals.

For now, however, it’s the Year of the Tiger and there’s no more of a slam dunk than that in professional sports this year. That’s what happens when you’re bigger than the game in so many people’s minds.

WEIR TO PEBBLE

Mike Weir reports on his website that he is targeting Pebble Beach as his return to action after elbow surgery last year. He’ll also play on the European Tour this year ... Canadians scheduled to play this week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines include Stephen Ames, David Hearn and Graham DeLaet ... The Canadian Tour has unveiled its new Eastern Ontario event. The Great Waterway Classic will be played Sept. 6-9 at Smuggler’s Glen in Gananoque. The four-year deal will see the event rotate to different courses in the area. It will have a $150,000 purse.

HANEY’S THE NEW VILLAIN

The best-before date had expired on his former caddie Steve Williams, so the Woods camp needs a new pariah. That will be Tiger’s ex-coach Hank Haney when his book on life with Tiger comes out just before the Masters. It will be interesting to see what’s said, if anything, about his current swing coach Foley, who has traded public jabs with Haney in the past ... Dick Grimm, affectionately known as “Mr. Canadian Open” and a former Canadian Tour commissioner, has elected not to travel to Orlando to pick up the George Cumming Distinguished Service Award and to become a PGA of Canada lifetime member. Grimm, 88, has occasional balance issues that make air travel difficult ... Toronto’s Rebecca Lee-Bentham, the 2011 Canadian women’s amateur champ, will launch her full-time LPGA Tour career in a couple of weeks at the Women’s Australian Open. The other Canadian rookie, Maude Aimee LeBlanc, will start her season in mid-March at the LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix. Both earned their cards at Q-school last month.


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