In four weeks, we are going to find out if Tiger Woods’ second comeback is anything of substance.
On Monday, the 14-time major champion announced to the golf world that he will be making a return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Nov. 30 – Dec. 3.
Now ranked well down the world golf rankings at 1,180, Woods last tournament was in January at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he missed the cut with scores of 76 and 72.
Not long after that, lingering back problems meant a fourth surgery in three years and a six-month recovery that effectively ended his 2017 season.
He has made just 19 starts on the tour since winning five times in 2013, which means he’ll be mighty rusty at the Hero World Challenge, which he hosts and pits him against 17 elite golfers on the tour. He finished 15th last year in an event won by Hideki Matsuyama.
Tiger, 41, may add his name to our compilation (again, spoiler alert) of 15 high profile athletes who failed miserably at comebacks.
15. Ryne Sanderg
For 12 seasons, spanning the early 1980s to the early 1990s, Ryne Sandberg was the dominant second baseman in baseball as a member of the Chicago Cubs. The future Hall of Famer was a 10-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glover, six-time Silver Slugger award winner and National League MVP in 1984. After an all-star season in 1993, Sandberg’s game took a turn for the worse and after 57 games his batting average had dipped from .309 in ’93 to a woeful .238. Every number on his stat line took a beating and then citing a lack of desire to adequately prepare, he announced his retirement. He spent the rest of that year and the 1995 season away from baseball, but the bug bit him in 1996. By some counts his return to the Cubs in’96 wasn’t bad, but his batting average was still down (.244) and his strikeouts way up (a career worst 116). After another sub-standard year in 1997 (.264 average, 94 Ks in 135 games), he retired for good. His legacy wasn’t too stained but it still took him three years to get into Cooperstown when it should have been a first ballot induction.
14. Michael Vick
Unlike most members of this list, Michael Vick’s comeback was preceded by time in prison. His story will be forever tarnished by the ugly dog fighting scandal and subsequent 21-month stint in Club Fed (aka the Big House). Before he wore no. 33765-183 as a guest of Leavenworth penal institution, Vick sported the no. 7 jersey as the Atlanta Falcons’ starting quarterback. Just an average passer, Vick made up for it in mobility, running the football like a back. The four-time Pro Bowler ran for an astounding 1,039 yards in 2006 (the year before his troubles began), to go along with 2,474 passing yards. After his arrest and conviction, he was out of football in 2007 and 2008. Chastised and supposedly contrite, Vick returned to football with Philadelphia and for three season he was decent. But, in 2013 his play deteriorated and in three seasons he started just 12 of 22 games for three different teams and was done by 2015.
13. Sugar Ray Leonard
Sugar Ray Leonard wasn’t just a champion boxer who ruled four different weight classes in his illustrious career, he was also the king of comebacks. He retired an unretired so many times, it was nearly impossible to keep count. In his prime, Leonard beat fellow “Fabulous Four” boxers Roberto Duran for the WBC welterweight title (1980), Thomas Hearns for the WBA welterweight belt (1981) and Marvin Hagler for the WBC middleweight title (1987) among other championships. After suffering a loss to little-known Terry Norris in the WBC middleweight title fight in 1991, the 35-year-old Leonard called it a career. However, five years later, a 40-year-old Leonard made the ill-fated decision to un-retire and scrap with 34-year-old Hector “Macho” Camacho for the IBC middleweight championship. On March 1, 1997, Leonard stepped into the ring with Camacho, who proceeded to tear apart the legend, knocking him out in the fifth round (it was ruled a TKO). Thus ended Leonard’s career, on a very sour note.
12. Ben Johnson
For a few years in the late 1980s, Ben Johnson was the “it” guy in Canadian sprinting. Born in Jamaica in 1961, he emigrated to Canada with his family in 1976 and lived in Toronto. There he met legendary track coach and former Charlie Francis and a partnership was born. By 1984, Johnson won bronze in the 100 meters in the L.A. Olympic games, followed by gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games. A rivalry with American Carl Lewis was also budding, as the famously outspoken Yank accused Johnson of using PEDs after he lost to Johnson in the 1987 world championships. The 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul would be Johnson’s coming out party. He won the 100 m that summer in a world record time of 9.79 seconds. But, subsequent drug tests found stanozolol in his urine and he was stripped of the title. From hero to zero in 9.79 flat, we say. A pariah thereafter, he was suspended until 1991, when he attempted a comeback. He did make the 1992 Canadian Olympic team, but missed the finals after finishing dead last in his semi-final heat. But, more drug shenanigans followed as well as sanctions, preceding one late indignity that saw him running alone against the clock (11.0 seconds) in a race staged in Kitchener, Ontario.
11. Mark Spitz
Spitz was cause celebre in 1972, winning a whopping seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics. In a games stained by terrorism, “Mark the Shark” won golds in the 200 m butterfly and freestyle, the 100 m butterfly and freestyle as well as three relay events. Having also won two gold at the 1968 games in Mexico City to bring his total to nine (being one of just five ever Olympians ever to win that many), Spitz retired at the ripe old age of 22 after Munich concluded. However, in 1992, Spitz, then 41, was lured out of retirement by an offer of $1 million from a filmmaker if he could qualify for that summer’s games in Barcelona. Even though his times were as good as, or better, than those posted by his 22-year-old self, Spitz was well off the mark for qualifying, being a full two seconds short. And, that failed comeback was filmed for posterity.
10. Claude Lemieux
Never a superstar, former NHLer Claude Lemieux was known as the lucky rabbit’s foot for three NHL teams. He finished his NHL career as one of just 10 players to have won a Stanley Cup with three different clubs, they being Montreal, New Jersey and Colorado. A feisty player and noted clutch playoff performer, Lemieuz also had an infamous edge to his game, as witnessed by the dirty check from behind he planted on Detroit’s Kris Draper (breaking his nose and jaw) during yet another heated 1996 playoff series between Lemieux’s Colorado Avalanche and Draper’s Red Wings. Dirty play aside, Lemieux would play 1,197 games between 1984 and 2003, scoring 786 points. He retired after the 2002-03 campaign at the age of 37, only to give the NHL another shot in 2008 with San Jose. He toiled in the minors after being cut in the pre-season and upon being recalled by the Sharks in early 2009, recorded a lone assist in 18 games. Somewhere, Kris Draper must have been chuckling to himself.
9. Jim Palmer
Jim “Cakes” Palmer was the dominant pitcher of the 1970s, winning more games (186) than any other major league hurler during that span. So nicknamed “Cakes” for his breakfast preference of pancakes before his starts, Palmer was a deceptive hurler who would win 268 total games, along with three AL Cy Young awards with Baltimore and three World Series titles in three different decades with the O’s. The deterioration in his game began in 1983 when his ERA went over 4.00 for the first time in his career (4.23 in 14 games) and by 1984 it had ballooned to 9.17 in five games, precipitating his retirement. Yet, in 1991, when he was 41 years old and a Hall of Famer, Palmer attempted a comeback with is beloved Orioles. But, after giving up five hits and two runs in a spring training game, he retired permanently.
8. Bo Jackson
Bo new football and Bo new baseball and if he was given a chance probably could have known basketball and hockey. Jackson, a multi-sport athlete who excelled in football and baseball at Auburn, he would later be known in the famous commercials in the “Bo Knows” ad campaign. He was picked in the seventh round of the 1987 NFL Draft by Oakland, as well as the fourth round of the 1986 MLB draft by Kansas City. From 1987 to 1990 he would play for both the Raiders and the Royals. In football, he ran for 2,782 yards and 16 touchdowns before a degenerative hip disorder forced his retirement. On the diamond, Jackson had a couple of good years, highlighted by his 1989 campaign where he hit .256, with 32 home runs and 105 RBI. After just 23 games of the 1991 MLB season, Jackson needed surgery on that bad hip, forcing him out of both baseball and football for the better part of two years. He came back to the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 1993, but was a shadow of his former self. In two seasons, one with the Chisox and the other with the California Angels, he hit just .251, with 29 homers and 88 RBI collectively, with but one stolen base (he had 81 career thefts before that).
7. Rickey Henderson
While he didn’t retire and comeback, per se, all-time stolen bases leader Henderson probably should have walked away from baseball after the 1999 season. So, we put him here not so much for attempting a bad comeback, but for resting on his laurels and malingering. The man who would swipe 1,406 career bases put in decent work for the New York Mets in 1999, with a .315 batting average and 37 stolen bases. But, he was also caught 14 times, which represented his second slimmest margin of stolen/caught in his career. Then in 2000, at 41 years of age, Henderson’s batting average slipped to .233 in a season split between the Mets and Seattle, with just 36 stolen bases, his lowest total in any season he played more than 100 games (123). The San Diego Padres brought him back for the 2001 season and his numbers declined further with a .227 batting average and 25 stolen bases in 123 games. He subsequently filled in time with Boston in 2002 and the Dodgers in 2003, stealing 11 bases in 102 games and hitting just above the Mendoza line (.219).
6. Brett Favre
For two years late in the last decade, superstar quarterback Brett Favre mulled retirement. All anyone around Green Bay could think of was “will he, or won’t he?” After the 2007 season, when he threw for the third most yards in his career (4,155) along with 28 TDs and 15 INTs, he did call it quits on Mar. 4, 2008. Yet, he wasn’t really done. A spring and summer filled with self-serving back-room shenanigans (too many to get into here) saw Favre traded to the New York Jets in early August of that year (because Aaron Rodgers was ready, too). It would be a very mediocre debut in Jets’ green, as Favre threw for 3,472 yards and 22 TDs, but also a league high 22 interceptions. That dismal campaign preceded Favre’s “second” retirement, which was followed by him signing with Green Bay rival Minnesota. While he did enjoy a renaissance at 40 with the Vikings in 2009 (4,202 yards passing, 33 TD, 7 INT), his final final last season, 2010, was horrid. The future Hall of Famer passed for just 2,509 yards in 13 games, with 11 TD and 19 interceptions.
5. Magic Johnson
The 1980s in the NBA were all about the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. The former club, ruled by Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar win five titles from 1980 to 1989 and played in three other championship series. After a standout career at Michigan State, Earvin “Magic” Johnson would be an all-star every year for 12 years, as well as three-time league and finals MVP and nine-time All-NBA First Team member, among other accolades and personal bests. He dropped a bomb on the basketball world, though, after the 1990-91 season by announcing that he had contracted HIV and that he would be stepping back from hoops. He wouldn’t play for four seasons, but was enticed out of retirement by the Lakers for another go around in 1995. His game, though, wasn’t near his pre-HIV announcement levels, as he put up 14.6 points average in 32 games (nine starts), along with 5.7 rebounds and 6.9 assists (well below the double digits of years gone by).
4. Bjorn Borg
The 70s sure were a great decade for men’s tennis. The battles between Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were legendary. Of the three, Borg was the most captivating, on and off the court. The blond haired Swede won four French Open titles in that decade (six total) and four Wimbledon titles in a row (five with his victory in 1980). Off the court, he lived the life of a playboy, with a penthouse in Monte Carlo and mansion among the well-to-do on Long Island. In early 1983, he stunned the tennis world by announcing his retirement while still in his prime at 26. It would be nearly eight years before he would attempt a comeback. And he kicked it old school, growing his hair out again and using a wooden racket (even though he used modern graphite rackets in exhibitions during retirement). The hair and the throwback racket did nothing for him, winning no matches between 1991 and 1993.
3. Tiger Woods
We told you that Woods was making another comeback soon and we hope it turns out better than his first one. On Thanksgiving Day in 2009, Woods shadowy world of extramarital affairs came crashing down around him after a bizarre vehicle accident and subsequent tabloid coverage of all his dirt. He backed away from the golf world at that point, lost a ton of endorsements and didn’t golf for months. He had won his last major at the 2008 U.S. Open and made his comeback at the 2010 Masters. He finished fourth, but after that his game regressed with poor showings at Quail Hollow and the Players Championship. He also changed swing coaches from Hank Haney to Sean Foley, but that didn’t help as he failed to win a single tournament in a calendar year for the first time in his career. He hasn’t been the same since.
2. Roger Clemens
To this day, the stain of alleged PED use has dogged Rocket Roger Clemens quest for enshrinement at Cooperstown. The numbers back him up: seven Cy Youngs, 354 career wins, seven ERA titles, two World series titles, an MVP award and two triple crowns. In 2006, Clemens was 43 and finished a fairly decent season with the Houston Astros, going 7-6 in 19 starts, along with a 2.30 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 113.1 innings pitched. Having sort of retired after pitching for the New York Yankees until 2003 and then unretiring to join his adopted hometown Astros, it was believed that ’06 was his swan song. But, Roger and his considerable ego couldn’t stay away and in a fairly bizarre turn of events he re-joined the Yankees in June of 2007. Making about a million bucks per start (17 of them), Clemens wasn’t at peak form. He finished that last season 6-6 and a chunky ERA of 4.18. He struck out just 68 in 99 innings and had a lofty WHIP of 1.313.
1. Michael Jordan
Sometimes, it’s best to go out while one is still on top. Too bad none of the athletes here could hang up the cleats/skates/shoes when their “best before” date came and went. None could be chided for that more than His Airness. His first comeback, after a failed attempt at pro baseball in 1994, was an unmitigated success, as he led the Bulls to three straight championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998. After the 1997-98, the surefire Hall of Famer decided to step away from the game, and many believed him when he said it was for good. The lure of the court, though, was too strong even for arguably the game’s best player. He came out of a three-season retirement in 2001 to play for the Washington Wizards. He did lead the Wiz in scoring that year (22.9 points per game) but a wonky knee forced him to miss 22 games, the most he had ever sat out for. He played a full season in 2002-03 and was an All-Star but he didn’t get to the post-season and his 20 PPG was the lowest of his career.