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Is Tiger Woods Back?

“Winning Takes Care of Everything,” boasts the ad. Sponsored by Nike, the only brand that stuck by the disgraced golfer as he struggled to get his reputation out of the rough, it has an impertinence that’s gotten everyone talking. It’s confident, even cocky, and most importantly, buzzworthy. A winner for Nike.

Yet the tone is at odds with Woods’ carefully choreographed repentance and new, more humble lifestyle. Also, it may be a little premature (the Arnold Palmer Invitational isn’t the toughest tournament, after all!) More to the point, it violates a cardinal rule of reputation management by indirectly reminding us of his fall from grace. And many criticized the ad for seeming to trivialize or excuse his misbehavior.

But, as Nike points out, Woods set a goal to regain his game stature and through hard work, he has – at least for now – accomplished it.

So does his status mean he is, literally, out of the woods? Are his recent wins and (presumably) stable relationship with Lindsay Vonn enough to wipe out the bimbo eruptions and hostage-video-style apology of three years ago?

Probably. Woods is now the game’s number-one player again, which is a tangible and indisputable achievement, and one that at times seemed impossible. My guess is that if he wins the Masters next month, it will clinch his comeback. Because most of us, even casual fans, now really want him to win.

Life doesn’t give us many mulligans, but Woods has earned this. There are few stories more irresistible to the media – and the public – than redemption on such a grand scale. Tiger Woods is a just a shot away from climbing back from the longest, toughest, and most painful match of his life.

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