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Sunday's 2nd Place Finish Was A Huge Victory For Tiger Woods

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So is Tiger Woods really back? OK, the golf legend has not won a major tournament in more than a decade. At times, it looked like he just physically couldn't play golf anymore. And yet, he returned to form at Sunday's PGA golf championship. And there was so much excitement around him, you might have thought that he had won and not Brooks Koepka. Woods actually placed second. I asked sports journalist Kevin Blackistone the obvious question - is this for real?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Tiger's comeback is, at this point, real. Now, is he...

GREENE: At this point.

BLACKISTONE: At this point...

GREENE: Just a little caveat.

BLACKISTONE: ...It is real. Yeah.

GREENE: OK.

BLACKISTONE: I mean, is this the Tiger of old? No. But this is an old Tiger who is awfully good now.

GREENE: So even if he's not the old Tiger - I mean, a Tiger who's pretty darn good is good enough to kind of...

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely.

GREENE: ...Draw this attention, to be huge ratings for golf and...

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely. This weekend, I think I read that the ratings were up 69 percent over last year at this time.

GREENE: And highest at the PGA Championship since 2009...

BLACKISTONE: Since...

GREENE: ...The last time he was in the final.

BLACKISTONE: When he was - exactly. And it's a redemption song - right? - that we're seeing playing out here. I mean, here's a guy who had fallen off the map. He was, at one point, not ranked in the top 1,000 golfers on the planet (laughter).

GREENE: Not to mention that his wife chased him out of his house with a golf club, he confessed all these affairs - I mean, it was...

BLACKISTONE: Exactly, where he had...

GREENE: It was low.

BLACKISTONE: Yeah. I mean, it was low. I mean, he had to step away from the game. Vanity Fair infamously put a darkened picture of him on its cover that made him look like a criminal. You know, he went through the physical pain of having four back surgeries during the middle 2010s. His game looked like it had been lost and would never be found again. Now he's healthier than he's been since before all those surgeries. And he is benefiting also from the fact that no other golfer has been able to take the game by the horns since he last held them. So right now, we have Brooks Koepka. He's the hot name.

GREENE: Young American golfer, yeah.

BLACKISTONE: Exactly. We had Rory McIlroy. He seems not to be as hot as he was. We've had Jordan Spieth. He seems not to be as hot as he was. We've had Rickie Fowler who hasn't necessarily lived up to expectations. But Tiger is still there. He's the constant.

GREENE: Have people truly forgiven him for a lot of the personal stuff? Like, how would you describe it?

BLACKISTONE: You know, I think a lot of that has gone into the past. I think a lot of people feel that he paid his penance for his transgressions in his marriage. And that wasn't the only thing that he's had to overcome. Remember he got arrested for a DUI.

GREENE: Like a year ago, right?

BLACKISTONE: Yeah, just a year ago. So he had to go through that. So he's had some bumps in the road. But we love a comeback story. And I think that's will we're seeing, even if he doesn't win another major.

GREENE: Is there a larger lesson about redemption in sports here - like, who gets to enjoy redemption, who doesn't? What's the lesson here?

BLACKISTONE: Well, I think there is something to be said for that. It's never been reported that Tiger Woods was violent towards women. So I think, in one sense, he has had a softer landing in this comeback story than maybe some others. Certainly, Ray Rice in the NFL, whose violence against his wife was documented on videotape, has not had an opportunity to come back from that.

GREENE: And probably won't ever.

BLACKISTONE: Yeah. And won't ever at this point. So I think we have a different approach to some people. And time makes a huge amount of difference.

GREENE: Kevin, thanks a lot.

BLACKISTONE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULAR ORDER'S "FORGIVENESS")

GREENE: Kevin Blackistone is a sports journalist and a frequent contributor to ESPN's "Around The Horn." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.