Tiger is officially back
Tiger Woods has that twinkle back. Woods watches his shot from the seventh tee during the final round of the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., July 1, 2012. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters)
Let it be told that on Sunday, July 1, 2012, Tiger Woods is back.
He won for the third time in this calendar with his victory at his own event, the AT&T National.
There may be no more questions on the topic. It is all over and done.
I know it, you know and, most importantly, Tiger knows it.
"It was just a matter of time. I could see the pieces coming together," Woods said after the win on Sunday. "I had basically a year away from it because I was hurt. I couldn't practice and changing systems. Give me a little bit of time, and I feel like this is what I can do."
We've heard this rhetoric for a while, but now he has results backing him up. No other player has three wins on tour this season. Only one other guy in the history of the sport has more wins than him all-time.
He's 36 years old. Jack Nicklaus, who he just went by on the wins list, got his last title at the 1986 Masters. Remember that one? Nicklaus was 46.
Woods is one win away from breaking the $100 million mark in career earnings. That number is staggering. It's breathtaking, and again, he's 36. Granted, Woods' body has come up frail throughout his whole career, but you have to believe he has close to 10 years of prime golf left.
These career accomplishments aren't the reason why Woods is back post-scandal.
The reason is swagger.
When Woods was killing everyone on tour, he was killing everyone's spirit in the process. Every time he had a big lead, the guy in his pairing knew Woods wasn't coming back to him. That poor fella had to go get Woods, which meant he had to play more aggressively, which went meant more mistakes were likely, which meant that would happen and then Tiger won by eight.
Sunday's win was no runaway. Bo Van Pelt held tough until the 17th, but Woods had an aura about him on this sultry Sunday.
It was no more evident than the 18th hole.
Armed with a 1-shot lead, Woods pulled the driver out of the bag on 18. After small gasps of shock, Woods crushed the big stick down the middle. With 182 yards to go, he hit a 9-iron, then the telling moment.
Woods hit it so purely, he knew it would be perfect. After impact, he strutted down the fairway like Tony Manero going to dance in "Saturday Night Fever." That walk said, "Perfect, just like I planned, give me my trophy."
"When I hit it, I knew it was good," Woods deadpanned.
That swagger has been missing. It comes with winning and Woods is doing that now.
The naysayers will say nay.
"He hasn't won a major yet, so he can't be back."
That's a decent point, but look at the two guys who've won majors.
It's pretty hard to imagine a guy with a green jacket being hard to spot, but Bubba Watson has been non-existent pre and post Masters. Granted, most of that has to do with a new baby in the fold, but Watson hasn't had the year Tiger has.
Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open, but had four nondescript top 10s prior to Olympic Club.
Golf is a major-driven sport. Tiger believes that more than anyone or he wouldn't have taped Nicklaus' records to his bedroom wall. But, with three wins in 12 starts (one WD), can you claim either of these guys is having a better year than Woods because they won a specific tournament.
For most, a major win will be what it takes to cement Woods' status as the player he once was. No one here is claiming he will be that same player. It's too hard to be that excellent for that long.
Another possible argument against Woods' return is that where he's winning these events are comfortable spots.
Prior to this year, Woods won 11 times at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial and AT&T National. It's easy to play well at venues when you're that comfortable at them, but wins are wins.
Woods is the best player in the world right now. Who cares what some math equation spits out? With all of your money on the line, would you take Luke Donald, Lee Westwood or even Rory McIlroy to win a tournament over Tiger right now?
Of course you wouldn't.
And now that's it.
I was skeptical, but on Sunday I was not. In my blood, I knew this event was over. It was Tiger's tournament and he delivered. That was a first since the sex scandal.
He's not going to win every time, those days are over. But now you can reasonably assume he will win when he's in contention.
He has his strut again.
So, on a sweltering hot day, amidst the ruin of a brutal storm leaving behind power outages, property damage and splintered trees, the biggest thing left behind was the question.
Tiger Woods is back.