On Jan. 28 at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, Calif., Tiger Woods beat the field by four strokes to earn his eighth career victory at Torrey Pines, the most wins by any athlete at a single course.
With this win comes the inevitable question: Is Woods back? And my answer, which tends to be of the minority, is: Yes, he is.
The 2013 season is very young, but a few statistics hint that this year could be Woods’ return to dominance. Woods ranks 11th and 13th in putts per hole and birdies per round, respectively, while in 2012, he was 42nd and 34th in those same respective categories.
It is hard to define exactly what “back” means in this context. Even with his statistics this season, Woods is performing significantly worse than a decade ago. Is being a leader in numerous statistics and winning multiple majors in a given season enough? Or would being statistically relevant in a few categories and winning a single major this season constitute him as being “back”?
This is where the subject matter turns gray. To think he could attain the level he once had a decade ago is a bit far-fetched, especially given the quality of the field now.
Even given this discrepancy, there is one reason why I know he is “back.” It is not something that can be documented on paper or logged in some statistics book. It is something that makes him “Tiger” and everybody else “everybody else.”
It is his aura, his mindset, his mental game that says, nay, knows, “I am the best.”
The Woods we saw at Torrey Pines is one that has been missing from golf since his infidelities came to a head in 2009. It was one of those rounds where the real drama was with second place because his commanding lead mathematically could not be caught.
He was dominant, in control, and, most notably, feared. Nick Watney, who finished tied for fourth, said of Woods, “I don’t know if anybody would have beaten him this week. He was definitely on his game.”
Even off the course, he has changed. When Rory McIlroy – ranked No. 1 in the world and Woods’ main competition – signed with Nike, who also endorses Woods, everyone held their breath to see how Woods would handle the situation. In past years, the media has allegedly aggravated Woods during press conferences and the like.
But this is no longer the case. Woods and McIlroy recently appeared in an advertisement that not only addresses the stigma behind their relationship, but it also shows a lighthearted side of Woods we have not seen in a long time. When McIlroy says that he is “just trying to keep up with the old guy,” Woods retorts, “Dude, is that your real hair?”
Golf is one of, if not the most, mental game to play. The fact that he is back to his intimidation on the course and friendliness off it is how I know he is “back.”
When asked this question, Woods did not claim he was back. Instead he said, “I never left.”