Tiger Woods on Top but Facing Long Climb

He's the world's biggest individual sports brand, and he's armed with new endorsement deals, but Tiger Woods has dropped out of the Top 50 golfers as he tries to mount a comeback.

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Tiger Woods (Robert Laberge/Getty Images Sport)

He missed the cut in the PGA Championship a couple of months ago. He hasn't won on the PGA Tour in more than two years. And he's dropped out of the world's top 50 golfers for the first time in 15 years.

But he's still Tiger Woods, and his name still resounds.

Forbes magazine ranks him as the top individual sports brand. Rolex just signed him to a multiyear endorsement deal. And now that his left knee and Achilles tendon have fully healed, he's ready to resume a career that went sideways on Thanksgiving 2009, all while golf legends such as Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Nick Price predict he'll never win another major championship.

"I've heard that before," Woods said Wednesday from the site of the Frys.com Open in Northern California. "It's not the first time I've heard that. I've kept on winning them, too."

No, this isn't the first time Woods has mounted a comeback. He won seven events around the world in 2009 after undergoing major knee surgery. He has won after deconstructing and reconstructing his swing ... twice. And he won the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg in a playoff after blowing his fourth-round lead.

But if you're forced to make a prediction with a gun to your head, it's a safer bet that Woods won't eclipse Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. What seemed to be a fait accompli as Woods won 14 majors before his 33rd birthday now appears to be a long shot -- although Nicklaus himself says it's still possible.

Whether fans are rooting for more wreckage or a remarkable turnaround, Woods remains eye candy to the masses. Tournament officials for the low-profile Frys.com Open say that ticket sales have increased by 40 percent over last year's event and media interest has surged. That's one reason he was selected to play in the President's Cup in Australia next month.

But there's a difference nowadays in the golfers he'll have to climb over to regain his position as the world's top player. He used to have a mental edge over them, as important as any club in his bag. It was like climbing in the ring with Mike Tyson at his peak -- you knew you were defeated before the first bell.

The competition doesn't fear the 35-year-old Woods anymore. His mystique and aura have been replaced by ho and hum.

There's a lot of work ahead if he's to flip it back.

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