After 924 days, plenty of hard work with his coach Sean Foley, countless hours of under achievement in the glare of the public eye, Tiger Woods finally laid one ghost to rest. His five-shot victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Orlando, Florida earned him his first PGA Tour win in over two years.
Certainly, the weight of pressure has been lifted from Tiger’s shoulders. Carrying that monkey on his back over the last 12 months in particular has seemingly weighed him down at times.
That’s why few people will begrudge him his “f*** yeah!” explosion of delight as his approach to the last at 18 landed safely on the green missing the water, handing Woods the formality of putting out for a relatively easy win.
“It’s been tough and today was unbelievable,” stated Woods after his victory was confirmed.
“It feels good.
“It has been a lot of hard work and I’m so thankful for a lot of people helping me.”
“I am excited by the Masters,” he revealed. “It’s always good to play there, always fun. The things I have been wroking on are all coming together at the right time.”
The victory was Woods’ 72nd PGA Tour title and the seventh time that he has enjoyed victory at Bay Hill and his return to the winners circle has already sent press and pundits into overdrive stating that now Woods is once again the man to beat and that his return to the summit of golf is a mere formality.
But let’s just gain some perspective here, shall we?
Three weeks ago, Rory McIlroy was untouchable. He’d just been anointed the new World Number 1, golfers rushed to proclaim that this was now the era of McIlroy and that every other golfer may as well take up throwing clay on potters wheels instead of trying to beat the Northern Irishman.
Only then last week Luke Donald won, and reclaimed the top spot in the world just seven days after he lost it.
So now, a week later, Woods win somehow means that he is, in the paraphrased words of Justin Rose, likely to dominate golf all over again?
Certainly the response from the bookmakers has been verging on hysterical. Woods is now the favourite to win in Augusta, ahead of McIlroy, Donald, Westwood, Stricker, Kaymer. Woods has also moved back into the World’s top 10 after his victory. The expectation seems to be that Woods winning a major this year is a formality, all he needs to do is turn up and it will happen.
That to me seems stretching faith in Woods ability to breaking point. Certainly, he has shown better form in recent weeks and months, but lets not forget, he did win the 18-man field Chevron in the winter, but hardly set the world alight following that win. Woods was playing at Bay Hill, a course he has enjoyed great success on in the past and which he knows well, seeing as he lives so close to the course.
If an event was ever likely to see Woods return to the winners circle, it was the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The course suits him, the conditions suit him. In essence, it is almost home field advantage for Tiger. So, is it so surprising he won? Not really, he is too good not to and Bay Hill provided the perfect opportunity for him to do so and Woods took that.
To translate that however into the notion that Woods is now once again almost unbeatable is stretching credibility. Having watched a lot of golf over the 924 days since Woods last won, I know who I think has a better chance of winning at The Masters in April and in the other Major Championship events this season, and it isn’t Woods.
His putting is still not there, his driving is still dreadfully erratic and while both are improving, he is nowhere near his imperious and consistent best.
The hysteria surrounding Woods also belittles the form of players like Steve Stricker, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy who have provided ample evidence in the last two and half years that they have what it takes to win a Major. In Kaymer and McIlroy’s case, actually proving so.
So, it is great that Tiger has won again, but let’s not go overboard here. It is the first step in his return, he’s a welcome return to the Golf Rankings top ten, he is the most talented player of this and perhaps any generation, but this isn’t the second coming just yet. If this is the dawn of the new Tiger Woods era then lets not forget, that there are a lot of very, very good players out there nowadays who can match Tiger on his day.
And in the eyes of some, there’s an Irishman with at least as much raw talent and potential and who, last time I checked, had won more events, was higher ranked and had won a major far more recently than Woods.
Images by Gorilla Golf Blog, Keith Allison