It took Tiger Woods 923 days and 26 tour events, but he finally crossed a weekend atop the leader-board for the first time since 2009.
Woods closed out a weekend worth of golf retribution with a two-under par 70 to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He did so in easy fashion with a five-stroke lead over second place Graeme McDowell. Smiling for the first time in a long time on a Sunday afternoon, Woods embraced his caddie, waved to the fans, and left the greens feeling the best he's felt in years.
"It's not like winning a major championship or anything," Woods said. "But it certainly feels really good."
The win tops off a month of improved play for Woods, who finally is beginning to look like the man who could challenge Jack Nicklaus for the record for most majors won. Coming off yet another tough injury, Woods bucked off the demands of his body and a tough field to send a message to the rest of golf, and to the world, that you best be prepared to play from now on because Tiger is back.
"I think he really just kind of nailed home his comeback," McDowell said. "Great to have a front-row seat watching maybe the greatest of all-time doing what he does best — winning golf tournaments."
After the victory, Woods tried to downplay his win, but no amount of humility could erase the obvious pleasure that Woods rightfully took from this victory. That joy was evident at the 18th hole when kneeling to look at his line as he waited his turn to putt on the 18th, Woods tapped his putter on the ground and could barely contain a grin. When he shortly tapped in for par, he clenched his fist in joy and let loose a primal “Yeah!” that seemed to contain years worth of frustration.
"I've gotten better, and that's the main thing," Woods said. "I've been close for a number of tournaments now. And it was just a matter of staying the course and staying patient, keep working on fine-tuning what we're doing. And here we are."
With the win, Woods improves to 6th in the world rankings. This puts him in the top 10 for the first rime since May 22 of last year.
"Heading home now and I can't stop smiling. Thanks to Otown fans and everyone watching for all the love. Get well soon, Arnie," Woods tweeted about three hours after his win.
For the weekend, Woods finished at 13-under 275 for his 72nd PGA Tour win, one short of Nicklaus for second place on the career list. With the Masters set to begin on April 5th, Woods is in the right place, physically and mentally to add one more to his resume and get him one closer to Jack Nicklaus's record 18. Woods currently has 14 majors wins.
Win or lose come next Majors, one thing is certain. Tiger is back and everybody better take notice.
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS