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Associated Press
Caddie Ken Convoy, left, Graeme McDowell, center, and Tiger Woods walk to the 18th green during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament at Bay Hill, Sunday, March 25, 2012, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The collective financial golf world gave a big sigh of relief on Sunday when Tiger Woods won convincingly at Bay Hill, his first victory in nearly a thousand days.


Because love him or hate him for his private life, when Tiger wins, so do tournament sponsors, TV networks, magazines, the Internet, golf gallery ticket sales and, perhaps, even those who sell clubs and balls.

With the Masters looming in a few weeks, this could not have come at a better time for golf. After all, with Tiger in the field, TV ratings for this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational were 129 percent higher than they were a year ago.

Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy can do only so much. Add Tiger to the mix and you have a mega spring and summer that the golf world has not seen in more than two years.

Yes, it may be making too much of his win Sunday in the Arnold Palmer Classic, on a course he has experienced victory seven times.

But if you break down the numbers, take into consideration the conditions of wind, pin placements and driveway-hard greens this past weekend on the Palmer layout, something big clicked with Tiger, his reconstructed swing and work with tutor Sean Foley.

This past week, many of the best golfers in the world were in Florida on this track and they struggled mightily. You saw it when Utah's own Daniel Summerhays hit his tee shot on the long par-3 on the back-nine into the water. This was a big-time test and the conditions, say many, were like a major.

Woods brilliantly rose above it all with superb shots from tee to green and a putter that went into clean-up mode when it counted. Among the final 16 to tee off Sunday, Woods' 2-under 70 was the best score.

Woods' driver has been an erratic disaster the past two years since his issues began Thanksgiving weekend of 2009, when his marital problems surfaced and his body and mind have appeared shaky.

At Bay Hill, nobody hit it straighter and more consistently. Woods is back to hitting it as long as anyone on tour and he is shaping his shots like a magician.

It isn't as if he disappeared, with a myriad of runner-up finishes in PGA Tour events and many top-fives through his struggles. He just didn't win.

"I've gotten better, and that's the main thing," Woods told reporters Sunday. "If you look at my results, I had the lead in Australia, had the lead in Abu Dhabi, I was there in contention at Pebble, and I was in contention at the Honda. I've been close for a number of tournaments now. And it was just a matter of just staying the course and staying patient, keep working on fine-tuning what we're doing, and here we are."

On Sunday, people were marveling at Woods' 267-yard 3-iron on the testy par-5 and the 182-yard 8-iron shot to within four feet on the No. 8 green.

Some experts have claimed Woods, because of his hiccup the last two years, cannot catch and break Jack Nicklaus' record for wins in majors (18), that his physical issues and his struggles with the putter may be unrecoverable.

Sunday's finish may have put such talk to rest.

Tiger currently ranks No. 4 on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation and is No. 2 in scoring average (68.27) behind McIlroy.

Woods is 36, the same age as Ben Hogan who won only one major at that point in his life, but finished with six more before he simply could not compete. If Woods can get five more, he'll get Nicklaus' record.

As for the economic impact of a healthy, winning Woods, it's all in the numbers. The first event he missed in 2010 due to injury was the Farmer's Insurance Open, formerly the Buick Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Ticket sales slumped 15 to 20 percent, and so did the TV audience.

Put Woods on the scoreboard with Mickelson the next few months and you have a gold mine.

email: dharmon@desnews.com