After going more than two years and 26 tournaments without a win, and after so much turmoil in his personal life and with his golf game, Tiger Woods stood over a 6-foot birdie putt Sunday to win the Chevron World Challenge and felt as though nothing had changed.
Finally, the outcome was familiar, too.
After his last putt, from 6 feet, fell, Woods reacted as if he had just won his 15th major. He let out a primal scream and pumped his right fist so vigorously it was a wonder he did not wrench his arm out of its socket. With a doff of his cap, he spun around to acknowledge the couple of thousand fans circling the green. Woods also let reporters in on his celebration by sending several bottles of Champagne to the media center.
Throughout his career -- when he was the Full Tiger -- Woods maintained that haunting ability to recede into a tunnel of concentration and dismantle his opposition first mentally and then physically with his shot making. On Sunday, Woods had that look in his eye again. And, when it mattered most, he had the shots to back it up.
"My immediate thoughts?" he said, repeating the question when asked what went through his mind after the birdie putt on No. 18 gave him a final-round 69 and a one-stroke victory. "I wasn't really thinking," he said. "I think I was yelling."
Yes, he was yelling, and ripping a pumped first through the air that had the power of a Tyson right cross. When the winning putt dropped, there was an eruption of joy from the gallery as well as from those in Woods' inner circle who have endured an extremely difficult two years. Fittingly, the victory drought ended at a tournament that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Then Woods did what he does best. Two holes, two 9-irons and two clutch putts later, everyone got what they wanted. Woods hit a 9-iron from 172 yards on the par-3 17th, then sank a 15-foot birdie putt after Johnson missed from a similar distance. A stinger 3-iron off the 18th tee set up another 9-iron shot, this one from 158 yards, on Sherwood’s final hole.
Woods watched his ball in mid-air, walking down the fairway with both hands holding the club chest-high, perpendicular to the ground. His ball landed inside Johnson’s, which was about 12 feet from the hole. Woods approached the green with his left hand jammed in his pocket and his right loosely gripping his club, lightly twirling it as he strode. Ho-hum.
Yes, Tiger is back -- at least he was on this day and that gives him a lot of confidence going into 2012.
"I think if I have a good year I should be on the ballot for Comeback Player of the Year," Woods joked.
Kidding aside, sitting at the podium was a position not even Woods could have imagined six months ago as he sat at home on his couch, his leg up and sidelined by another knee injury. Questions swirled about his game, his health and his future. Sunday's win provided at least some answers.
"I had to get healthy and to where I was strong and explosive again so I could practice," Woods said. "Then my practice sessions started building and building and building. I got better each week, and that's because I was healthy and able to get the reps in."
Bob Harig puts the win in perspective and also talks to Joe LaCava, who issues much better stock quotes than his predecessor.
But he had to start somewhere, didn't he?
"Winning means everything to him whether it's an 18-man field or Augusta National,'' said veteran caddie Joe LaCava, who has been on Woods' bag since October. "He wants to win and get in the winner's circle. He knows it's not 144 guys. He knows it's not the Masters.
"But still, winning is winning and you're beating 17 other really good players on a tough golf course in tough conditions. It means a lot. It wouldn't have been the end of the world if he lost and it's not the end of the world that he won. But it does mean a lot.''
Farrell Evans talked to a few Q-Schoolers about Tiger's performance at the Chevron World Challenge (incidentally the last under the oil company name, reports Doug Ferguson). Safe to say Jeff Maggert won't be getting a sponsor's invite anytime soon.
"I'm sure he'll count it as a win," said Jeff Maggert, who shot a 6-under 66 on Sunday at the Stadium Course. "But 18 guys? C'mon! At this time of year, you're fat on turkey looking forward to Christmas.
I would add a couple of random notes from the day. First, the golf course, which was frozen right up to the moments before the first group went out. It was a delight watching the tour staff, superintendent Sean Dyer and impressive crew determine if they could stick with the planned-on tee times, then so quickly prepare a defrosting Sherwood for play.
And the firmness and speed remained in the greens even after the thaw, so while some will understandably downplay the field size, time of year and quality of the design, winning on a Sherwood playing as firm and fast as it can is noteworthy. No, it wasn't as fast and fiery as a top major or Cup venue like Royal Melbourne, but it was certainly not in any way soft and when you include the wacky winds all week, this was as complete a test as you're going to get in the States. (I think the relatively high scoring on a five par-5 course speaks to this.)
Now, onto the visuals. PGATour.com posts video of the final two birdies. And right after the winning putt, do note the graceful way Mark Rolfing takes off his shades and hands them to his schlepper!
The Sportscenter highlights:
“I felt normal,” he said. “I know it’s been a while, but also for some reason it feels like it hasn’t.”
He then dug deep into his old school playlist, to LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” — released when Woods was just 14 years old — to emphasize the point.
“It’s pretty funny because one of my buddies texted me this morning (with) an old LL Cool J lyric: ‘Don’t call it a comeback; I been here for years.’
“I can’t wait to text him back.”
In other words, Woods doesn’t think he’s back because, in his mind, he never really left. Maybe the great ones have to think like that.
But the truth is, win No. 83 wasn’t like any before.
They wanted Woods back in the victory circle and let their feet do the talking. They walked through the gates of Sherwood Country Club in record fashion, 68,294 over the past five days.
Woods high-fived a fan en route to signing his scorecard, and the teenage boy said: "I'm never washing my hand again."
Boys dressed in Rickie Fowler orange stuck around and tried to implore Woods' ball into the hole with words.
Woods' heroics turned actor Stephen Bishop, who was in "Moneyball," into an obsessed fan jockeying for Woods' autograph Sunday. Bishop kept asking Woods if he liked the movie, hoping that would get him to sign his hat. There were too many people, five-deep, wanting the same thing as Bishop.