March 26, 2012
Posted: 1930 GMT
Tiger Woods' victory at Bay Hill was his 72nd on the PGA Tour. For the 36-year-old, that’s two victories for each year of his life.
The reality is that he’s now been in the winners’ circle on his home circuit 72 times in nearly 16 years on Tour. Pretty special and just one short of the legendary Jack Nicklaus and 10 behind Sam Snead's all-time record.
That he has come through a torrid time these last two and a half years, mostly self-inflicted, and re-emerged in the style of old, gives hope not least to himself regarding his next challenge: that of winning a major championship for the first time since the U.S. Open in 2008.
All eyes are on Augusta National next week and his bid to win a fifth Green Jacket at the Masters Tournament. The stage is set for one of the all-time great Masters, with so many of the world’s elite peaking for the first major of the season.
Woods caused some controversy recently when he cried off injured during the final round the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, but the former world no. 1 put paid to the predicable speculation about his general health by participating in the Tavistock Cup team event and then showcasing his well-being and excellent form at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill tourney, which he has now a record won seven times!
This was the Woods of old: with an armoury of shots on command and a greater confidence on the greens than recent form would have suggested.
To be fair, he was helped by the poor start of playing partner Graeme McDowell. The 2010 U.S. Open champion opened the final round of the Invitational with a nasty double bogey, thus increasing Woods’ lead to three, and the American was away, never to be caught.
Anything that GMAC threw at him, Woods was more than able to match. A two-horse race gradually turned into a one-man show. Woods was back, and boy did he look relieved to get this hurdle out of the way in the way that he loves, letting his clubs do the talking.
He is now back up to sixth in the world rankings, his odds to win the Masters have reduced and he is the bookies' favorite. Quite a turnaround from the clearly despondent figure who missed the cut by some distance at the final major of 2011.
The naysayers and doubters were shouting from the rooftops when Woods fired blanks at the PGA Championship in Atlanta last Augusta, and many had started to write him off as a slew of players in their twenties started to show their teeth in the biggest events. The Tiger factor looked like being a thing of the past, as youngsters like Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley and Charl Schwartzel grasped their opportunities at elite level.
With Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories seemingly out of reach for the newest golfing resident of Jupiter, Florida, all eyes have become more rigidly focused on those who represent the Tiger generation.
However, Woods' play at Bay Hill confirmed his status as the man who truly pushes the needle in terms of TV ratings, and his smile as the final putt went down showed to the world that he is where he needs to be: healthy and happy - and in pursuit of his deep-rooted ambitions.
Great to have you back, Tiger. The golfing world is better with you in it, playing like a champion.