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20 years after his last U.S. Amateur, will Tiger play again?

By Mike McGovern
Published on

Two anniversaries this week. Each memorable for a completely different reason.

Twenty years ago, Aug. 25, 1996: Tiger Woods made history, becoming the first player to win three straight U.S. Amateur championships.

What followed was more than a decade of complete dominance. Woods made the unlikely seem commonplace, and he turned intimidation -- through the force of his achievement, steely demeanor and Sunday red -- into an art form.

One year ago, Aug. 23, 2015: Woods made his last appearance in a PGA Tour event, teeing it up at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C.

What followed were two back surgeries, one in September and another in October, and since then, a lot of wondering and waiting to find out when -- or if -- he'll ever be able to play again.

The timing of Woods winning three straight Amateurs, which couldn't have been more perfect had it been scripted, was as significant as the accomplishment. Because two days later, on Aug. 27, 1996, Woods announced he was turning pro.

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His debut tour event was the Greater Milwaukee Open -- his first and last appearance there, by the way.

The hype and anticipation for Woods' first start would've been off the charts regardless. But it was ratcheted up even more, not so much because he won a third straight Amateur, but how he won it.

It was a hint of what was to come.

Woods faced Steve Scott, a sophomore at the University of Florida, in the 36-hole final at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Portland, Ore., and it looked as if NBC Sports would have plenty of time to fill.

Woods was 4-down through nine and 5-down through 16.

But as Woods has proved throughout his career, deficits don't seem to concern him.

Starting at the 21st hole, Woods won three straight to draw within one.

After Scott went 2-up at the 28th, Woods topped Scott's birdie with an eagle at the 29th, draining a 45-footer.

Scott won the 30th with a birdie, putting him 2-up with six to play.

And then Tiger Woods, the one we've come to know, took over. He birdied the 34th and 35th to draw even and eventually won with a two-putt par on the second hole of sudden death.

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The following week, he showed up in Milwaukee -- the weight of the extraordinary expectations increased by endorsement deals from Nike and Titleist worth approximately $37 million -- and greeted the media with, "I guess, hello, world."

Woods tied for 60th in Milwaukee. Overrated, people wondered?

Hardly.

In his next six starts, he had three top 5s and two victories.

Five months later, he'd win the Masters by a dozen shots, and from the 1999 PGA Championship through the 2002 U.S. Open, a span of 11 majors, he won seven.

Fast forward to last year: Woods' decision to play in the Wyndham for the first time turned out to be the last time we've seen him between the ropes.

He played well enough, opening 64-65-68, but managed only 70 in the final round and tied for 10th.

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The two back surgeries, combined with the assorted other injuries over the years -- knee, neck, Achilles tendon, elbow -- have reduced Woods to an "old" 40-year-old.

The rumors of his return earlier this year -- before the Masters, the Memorial, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship -- created as much buzz as the players who were playing.

When he withdrew from the PGA Championship in July, he also announced he would shut it down for the rest of the season.

The speculation on his 2017 return will resume a few weeks prior to the Farmers Insurance Open in January at Torrey Pines, where he's won seven times.

If it doesn't happen there, then how about in the run-up to the Arnold Palmer Invitational in mid-March at Bay Hill, where he's won eight times.

If it turns out he doesn't play again, these anniversaries could serve as bookends to a career that fell short of the ultimate -- surpassing Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships, which seemed like a good bet after he won the 2008 U.S. Open, his 14th major at age 32.

But that list of injuries, as long as a three-shot par 5, has left Woods stuck on 14 -- and probably wondering about what might've been.

This article was written by Mike McGovern from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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