The phrase "Tiger Woods is back" has been used nearly every time that the 37-year-old superstar has hit a decent shot over the past three years, but there is some merit to those words after Woods’ victory at Torrey Pines.
The long road back from scandal and injury has been exactly that—long. He has been gradually climbing back toward the unbeatable form that he was in prior to 2009, and repairing his confidence and consistency has not been a quick or easy task.
But at Torrey Pines, spectators were likely having flashbacks to 2008, when Woods last won the tournament by a comfortable eight strokes.
He stormed through the course in San Diego, with his best round coming on the second day. After impressive play through the first 17 holes, he eagled No. 18 to finish the day with a 65 and the lead.
Woods never looked like he would falter atop the leaderboard, and the only stretch of poor play came at the end of the last round, when victory was already essentially secured.
While the result is exciting, it does not mean that Woods is back. After establishing himself as the greatest talent in the history of his sport, he will not fully return from his fall from grace until he wins a major.
But his performance at Torrey Pines is a sign that he is finally ready to play his best golf at one of the four marquee tournaments this year. As ESPN Stats & Info notes, there has been a correlation during Woods’ career between winning in San Diego and impressing at the majors in the same year:
Tiger Woods has won the Farmers Insurance Open 6 previous times. In 5 of those years he went on to win at least one major tournament.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 28, 2013
No single stroke or PGA Tour event can mark the end of Woods’ three-year process to reestablish himself as the best player in his sport, but this is another step in the right direction.
After winning three tournaments last season, finishing first in FedEx Cup regular-season points and climbing up to No. 2 in the world rankings, Woods can add his victory at Torrey Pines to a long list of achievements that show drastic improvement.
The dominance that came to define Woods’ career before 2009 was on display this weekend. His health and confidence have returned, and if he continues to build momentum heading into the majors, Woods will chip away at Jack Nicklaus’ record in 2013.