In 1997, his world ranking plummeting to 141, Andre Agassi began the slow climb back to the top by entering a minor league challenger event, "playing hackers and has-beens."
“This is step one,” he later wrote in his autobiography, “All the way back to No. 1.”
It was “the sorriest court” he’d ever seen.
“(But) I belong here,” he wrote. “Unless I can accept that I’m where I’m supposed to be, I’ll never belong THERE again.”
Tiger Woods hasn’t fallen as far as Agassi had, but in announcing Monday that he’s entered the PGA Tour’s Fall Series Frys.com Open, Oct. 6-9, the 14-time majors champion acknowledged that he’s going where he’s supposed to be.
Before his life was devastated in the wake of a tabloid scandal, it would’ve been ludicrous to think of Woods playing in the PGA Tour’s four-event Fall Series.
The PGA season was essentially over for the game‘s elite — and none was more elite than Woods — after the FedEX Cup playoffs.
The Fall Series was for the sport’s bottom feeders, to see which retain their playing privileges for the following season and, thus, avoid the dreaded Russian roulette that is Qualifying School.
But Woods didn’t qualify for the FedEX Cup.
Instead, he’s enduring the worst season of his professional career.
His only highlight was a tie for fourth at the Masters in April, but even that was bittersweet given that he threw away a golden opportunity at a 15th major with mistakes on the final nine.
Since then, golf’s fallen champion has withdrawn after nine holes at The Players, skipped both the US and British Opens because of injuries to his left leg, returned to the Bridgestone Invitational with a mediocre tie for 37th and then missed the cut at the PGA.
Yes, it’s true he’s had to deal with injuries, but there’s more to the story. He still too often appears lost with his swing, and he’s also lost the mental edge he enjoyed over his rivals for more than a decade.
Last week, Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples announced that he would use one of his two picks on Woods in the matches against the Internationals at Royal Melbourne in November.
It was a controversial decision, to say the least.
Seventeen Americans are higher on the points list than Woods. Players of the caliber of Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler or the freshly minted major champion Keegan Bradley now face being overlooked.
"He's got to be on the team," Couples said unapologetically over the weekend. “It's unfortunate he didn't make the team (on points). I'm not leaving him off the team.”
Woods must repay that faith by playing his way back into form — or at least trying — and he’s hoping to do so by agreeing to show up at the CordeValle Golf Club, about 40 minutes from his alma mater, Stanford, in Northern California.
“I always enjoy competing in my home state, and this tournament fits my schedule perfectly,” he said on his website.
And, who knows, maybe this is where things turn around for Woods, who hasn’t won a tournament in almost two years.
Maybe getting back to playing is the answer for him, just as it was for Agassi.
“Fans laugh and yell things. How the mighty have fallen. Image is everything, eh, buddy?” Agassi wrote of his dog days. “A high-ranking official says publicly that Andre Agassi playing a challenger is like Bruce Springsteen playing a corner bar.
“So what’s wrong with Springsteen playing a corner bar?”
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