- - Monday, April 15, 2019

His first official Nike commercial, way back in 1996 – before anyone imagined the incredible highs and devastating lows ahead – was brilliant in capturing what Tiger Woods meant to golf and the outside world.

The ad featured roughly four dozen youngsters, boys and girls of various hues and ages. They walked city streets and picturesque courses. Some of the kids swung golf clubs. Others carried golf bags. The rest looked directly into the camera and made a simple declaration:

“I’m Tiger Woods.”

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If he was inspiring back then as a 19-year-old – fresh off a five-year, $40 million contract that instantly made him the highest-paid black golfer in history – what can we say about him as a 43-year-old, fresh off his first Masters win since 2005 and first major triumph in 11 years?

Try this: No one else is Tiger Woods.

We thought he was done hoisting trophies after prevailing in golf’s biggest tournaments. For that matter, it’s almost a miracle that he can hoist anything after four back surgeries, including a spinal fusion. The pain that brought him to his knees seemed certain to keep him off leaderboards.

He’d do well to play with his children in middle age, forget about playing against young up-and-comers. We weren’t alone in thinking Woods was through pursuing tournament wins, let along chasing Jack Nicklaus‘ record of 18 majors.

“I had serious doubts after what transpired a couple of years ago,” Woods said Sunday after demonstrating he can still do it. “I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit. Couldn’t lay down. I really couldn’t do much of anything.”

He could’ve counted his piles of money and left the game alone. He could’ve tried to live a pain-free life without the stress and strain of competitive golf. He could’ve stayed out of the spotlight that occasionally still flashes over his sordid downfall.

That’s what most of us would’ve done.

But we’re not Tiger Woods.

Nine months ago, he gave us a glimpse of the possible, taking the lead in the final round of the British Open. However, instead of watching contenders gag like they did Sunday, it was Woods who fell apart with a double bogey on the 12th hole. He provided another tease in September, capturing the Tour Championship for his 80th career victory; only Sam Snead (82) has more.

Now, just three majors behind Nicklaus, Woods has us thinking about the possibilities once again.

He’s set up nicely this year, with the PGA Championship at Bethpage and the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, courses where he has enjoyed success. Woods won the 2002 Open at Bethpage and dominated the field by 15 strokes in the 2000 Open at Pebble Beach (still the the largest margin of victory in any major championship).

He’s come a long way since 2009, when the world learned of the serial infidelity that eventually cost him his marriage and roughly $50 million in endorsements. Woods was a punchline back then. His 2017 mugshot invited further ridicule after he was arrested and briefly jailed on suspicion of DUI, charges he attributed to pain medication.

Look elsewhere if finding the perfect role model is your goal.

Aside from the notorious public embarrassments, Woods reportedly has been less than kind and gracious to many along the way, especially folks much lower than himself. He’s another example that greatness doesn’t always transfer from athletics to other attributes.

Yet, Woods 2.0 offers a healthy serving of inspiration for anyone battling critics and cynics.

He didn’t let them sway him or take his eye off the goal. Many of us have endured the same level of personal and physical struggles without the same publicity. We can learn a thing or three from Woods‘ travails.

“Well, you never give up,” Woods offered as a message. “That’s a given. You always fight. Granted, pushing and being competitive has got me into this position, but it’s also what got me out of it. I’ve always had a good work ethic throughout my career and throughout my life. I just had to change the work ethic a bit and work on some different things. Focused on that and just keep fighting.

“We wake up every morning, and there’s always challenges in front of us. Keep fighting and keep getting through.”

Nike unveiled a new commercial after Woods‘ victory Sunday, beginning with footage of him as a 43-year-old and moving going back until we see the 3-year-old prodigy sink a putt. The “Same Dream” has driven him the entire way, proclaimed by a babyish Tiger at the end:

“I’m gonna beat Jack Nicklaus.”

Though still unlikely, that thought has new life. We’ve been reminded once again, that HE’S Tiger Woods and there no others.

Wannabes need not need apply.

• Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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