Tiger Shows He Just Might Be Back

As you know if you listen to The Fast Lane or read me here, you’re aware that I’ve watched a lot of Tiger Woods this year, and had pretty much counted him out in terms of being a consistent winner again. In every tournament in 2012, he had a disaster at some point that has cost him a chance at the win. It had become so commonplace over the last 924 days since he had won a tournament that it was reasonable to expect that he wouldn’t win consistently on tour again. Those thoughts all went out the window this weekend.

To recap, Tiger was tied for second at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am heading into the final round, but shot a 75 and finished nine shots behind Phil Mickelson. On that Sunday, Woods missed seven putts that were less than 10 feet, and three more inside three feet. Tiger’s disaster that day included bogeys on seven, eight and nine, and another bogey on the par-five 14th.

At the Accenture Match Play Championship, Woods barely hung on against the forgettable Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Then in the second round, Tiger was all over the course in losing to Nick Watney. He couldn’t keep the ball in the fairway, and failed to hit those magical shots out of trouble that have been a staple of his career.

At the Honda Classic, Woods bogeyed four holes in the first round, and then double-bogeyed the par-three fifth in round two. He was never a major threat in Palm Beach Gardens. Even a gallant charge on Sunday, an eight under 62, wasn’t enough to overcome his earlier mistakes as Rory McIlroy won the championship.

At the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, Woods withdrew on Sunday. His inconsistency during that tournament didn’t make one believe he’d find his game. In round one, Tiger had four bogeys, two birdies and an eagle. In the second round, it was a bogey-free, five-birdie round. The next round, it was seven birdies and three bogeys. And then before he got hurt, he had three bogeys and no birdies before walking off the course on the 12 hole with a sore Achilles, which most figured would knock him out at the Bay Hill Invitational this week, which was only two weeks later.

That thought couldn’t have been further from reality. Tiger took a share of the lead in round two and was never headed. Yes, he had a mini-disaster on Saturday, when a young man fainted, and a woman who saw it happen screamed during Woods’ downswing. His shot landed in the wrong fairway, and he double-bogeyed the 15th hole. But Tiger picked up a birdie on 16, taking the lead into the final day. On Sunday, Woods dominated the field. He bogeyed two very difficult par threes, but pulled away for a five-shot victory. The seven golfers trailing Woods on Saturday night finished 21 over par on Sunday. Woods was the only one of the eight leaders to finish under par in round four.

Not surprisingly, Tiger’s next tournament will be the Masters on the first weekend in April. He’s primed for a run at Augusta, and like in the old days, will be the pick against the field in the year’s first major. A win at Bay Hill erased the disasters of the early part of this season, and the stench of a thirty-tournament losing streak.

With the win, Woods now has 72 career tournament wins, just one behind Jack Nicklaus on the all-time list, and 10 behind Sam Snead’s record of 82. Amazingly, Tiger has rocketed to No. 6 in the world golf rankings. A win at the Masters could vault him back to No. 1, depending on how Luke Donald, Now first, and No. 2 McIlroy and No. 3 Lee Westwood play there. A win at Augusta would also draw Tiger closer to the goal he really cares about: Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors. The last time Woods won a major, he did so on a broken leg and a torn ACL in June of 2008 at the U.S. Open in San Diego. Since then, 14 majors have been played, and Tiger doesn’t have a win in any of them. Padraig Harrington won the British Open and the PGA in ‘08, and 12 other golfers have won the 12 majors over the last three years.

As one who had ruled out Tiger just a couple of weeks ago, thinking his game, his injuries, his personal problems and resulting mental fatigue were too much to overcome, he proved me wrong.

Now all Tiger needs to do is be there late Sunday at Augusta, and all the naysayers will be convinced. It’s amazing what a strong four days of golf can do, especially for the most talented player ever to swing a club.