the big cat
Tiger Woods of the United States hits an approach shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany, The Bahamas on Dec. 4, 2016 in Nassau, Bahamas Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Aging is a funny thing. It's an inch-by-inch crawl: the slow recession of a hairline, the gradual expansion of a waistline, gray hairs that sprout like beanstalks, breaking apart a once uniformly colored landscape.

There's also moments of demarcation that make aging seem as if it happens all at once: Running a mile isn't as easy as it once was, tweaking a hamstring rising from the couch, and, of course, the biggies of facing down marriage, children and death.

Sports fans regularly watch aging play out in relentless cycles. The young up-and-comer becomes the best in the game, who becomes the fading star, who becomes the retiree. This happened to legendary golfer Tiger Woods , who turned 41 Friday. From 1997 through 2009, there was nobody more fearsome on a golf course. He looked great, but somewhat muted in 2013, when he won five tournaments but zero majors. Then a career's worth of injuries made Woods look old and finished as a competitor, in what seemed like a pretty sudden shift. Just months ago the collective golf world wondered if injuries and the seeming disappearance of his confidence had ended his career.

Now he's back, or he's at least playing competitive golf again in the twilight of his career. Woods played at the World Hero Challenge in the Bahamas and performed well, considering it had been more than 400 days since he teed it up in a competition because of persistent back and knee issues. But for the 14-time major winner, simply keeping up with the pros and winning a major tournament are far different tasks.

There are some signs of hope. Woods' shot a 65 in the second round of the World Hero Challenge earlier this month. Admittedly the course in the Bahamas is one of the easiest a pro will see all year, but that's a great score nonetheless and it shows he still has the ability to "go low" on his best days. He also made the most birdies out of anyone in the field, which indicates that as he grows more comfortable on the course and removes big mistakes, his scores should improve. Kyle Porter of CBS Sports also pointed out that Woods' swing looks like its smooth and easier on an aging body.

If Woods were to win again, however, it'll likely come down to putting. He can still launch the ball about 300 yards off the tee, but that's now average compared to a generation of young players who emulated the Woods stunning power from the '90s and early '00s. Woods has brought back to his classic Scotty Cameron-brand putter, which helped him win 13 of 14 majors. At his best, the Big Cat won, in part, by picking up strokes on the competition on greens. He could return to that form.

Some folks aren't ruling out a major win, despite Woods playing in just one tournament since his long hiatus. His old swing coach predicted Woods would win another major after the legendary golfer's first round back.

"Based on what I saw today, I think he wins more tournaments and one more major," Hank Haney told Sports Illustrated.

Golfer have often won majors past the age of 40. Phil Mickelson came agonizingly close to becoming the seventh in last year's British Open. Woods' best chance in 2017 might be at the Masters, where's he won four times and where experience with the course, Augusta National, comes into play more than any other major. His odds were cut in half from 40-1 to 20-1 after the World Hero Challenge.'s Michael Bamberger was bullish, if also reasonable, on Woods' chances at the Masters as well. A major win is out of the question, Bamberger wrote in an article this month that predicted Woods' 2017.

"But what people really like to do is watch Woods contend and win majors," he wrote. "That's asking too much for Christmas and the 2017 golf year. My bold prediction here is that he will have a top-10 finish at the Masters, because he knows and understands Augusta National so well."

At 41 years old, most golf experts agree the days of Woods' dominance are long gone — age catches up to everyone — but there are signs he can still hang around with the best in the world.