Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer share a laugh as Woods returns to No. 1 for the first time in 29 months. (AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer share a laugh as Woods returns to No. 1 for the first time in 29 months. (AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

After two-and-a-half years of not being the No. 1 golfer on the planet, Tiger Woods re-assumed that distinction by winning his third tournament of 2013. Is that good for golf, Woods and the rest of us? Sports on Earth’s Shaun Powell argues that point in his recent column “A Different Breed of Cat.” Powell joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: You article begins with the assertion that golf “desperately needs Tiger Woods on Sundays.” On what do you base that contention?

SP: I base that on the previous 12 years when he did show up on Sundays quite regularly in the major tournaments. And we saw golf just explode in terms or ratings, interest, prize money, equipment purchases, every which way across the board. I kind of base that on the fact that golf is much better off when Tiger Woods is in contention on a Sunday.

BL: Is it healthy for any sport to be so dependent on the success of one athlete?

SP: That’s a good question. I would probably say no if it pertained to the major sports like football or baseball. Those sports are sort of blocked in. However, when you start talking about the niche sports—tennis, golf, auto racing—they need the star who’s going to magnetize the public.

BL: Given the melodramatic chaos that Woods made of his life, though, the car crash, the multiple infidelities, the carefully orchestrated, by-invitation-only mea culpa, and so on, will he ever be as popular as he was before he sunk his own career?

SP: No, but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. First of all, it would be almost impossible for him to be that popular. Because number one, that would mean that he would have to win a ton of majors, and I don’t think he’s going to match that. I don’t think anyone’s going to match that. But see, here’s the thing. He doesn’t have to be as popular. He’s the first billionaire athlete in sports so he doesn’t need the money even after a divorce. Also, he doesn’t have to win 14 more majors. He only has to win four or five more so he doesn’t have to be that invincible athlete.

BL: Of his return to number one, Woods has said, ‘I don’t want to be as good as I once was. I want to become better.’ And of course we might expect nothing less from any elite athlete. But in his case, can he be an even better golfer? It sounds as if you think maybe not.

SP: No, that’s out of the realm of possibility. He’s not going to win 14 more majors. That’s just not gonna happen. He’s not gonna win 77 more tournaments. That’s not gonna happen. He’s not gonna hold the No. 1 ranking for the equivalent of 12 years. All he has to do is win four more majors in the course of what, say, 10 to 15 years, and be in contention on Sundays, and golf is better off for it.

BL: Well you keep mentioning the winning four majors, maybe five more majors. That, of course, would push him past Jack Nicklaus, and that’s the big question. Can he stay as good as he seems to be right now to win those five more majors?

Well that’s why it would be a fun journey to embark on because we don’t know. He is refocused. I think he’s had some happiness for a change in his private life. And as we know as human beings, if we have peace and tranquility and happiness in our private life, that tends to spill over into our work life. It tends to affect in a positive way how we go about our business. So if he has this peace, dealing with his children, dealing with his ex-wife, dealing with a new person in his life, that can only make him a better golfer.