Whether you love him or hate him, Tiger Woods is back.
The meticulous shot-making, the dead-eye stare, the body in balance, the competitive volcano that bides its time and wears down opponents, the galleries that gather and unnerve playing partners: It is all back.
Woods was center stage this weekend when he outlasted Sergio Garcia, who, at crunch time on 17 and 18 at the famed Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass at The Players Championship, went through a sleeve of balls to get home. Woods? He went 1-under par.
This was Woods' fourth win on the PGA Tour this year. And it's only the middle of May. He may have won the Masters if he hadn’t hit the flagstick on a hole he should have birdied. His ball bounded into the water, and he was penalized for an improper drop.
That Woods is No. 1 in the world is not debatable this spring. Criticize the man for life choices, but respect the player. His victory was more than a win. It was a signal, a warning. He is currently enjoying a stretch of good health; he is putting lights out; and he is rattling the field in tournaments once again.
As Rory McIlroy, the former No. 1 player in the world, stumbled around to a 7-under tie for eighth, Masters winner Adam Scott managed 5-under and a tie for 19th. Another notable peer, Phil Mickelson, has spent the last few weeks trying to find fairways. He missed the cut with rounds of 72-73.
In this event, which hosts the top players in the world, defending champion Matt Kuchar, who's capable and able, shot even par and tied for 48th. Kuchar’s final two rounds were 75 and 76.
When Garcia, Tiger’s biggest threat in the final two rounds, faced pressure on No. 17 on Sunday, the famed island green, the Spaniard promptly put two tee shots in the lake with his pitching wedge. He then hooked his tee shot on No. 18 in the water. It took Tiger seven shots to finish those two holes; Garcia took 13.
Say what you want about Woods, but the guy is a monster golfer. His precision, his abilities and his competitive spirit are remarkable.
Take for instance, the detail he puts into shots like that on the par 3 No. 17.
When asked about the difficulty of No. 17, the hole that gobbled up Garcia and many others this past week, Woods broke it down like an engineer.
“Yeah, it's (wind) in off the left today, and I had wedge, so it was 130 to carry, to cover it, and then seven more. The thing is you can get baited into hitting it over there, and that's the hard part. You have a simple little wedge in your hand, but if you happen to stick it in the ground with a left‑to‑right wind, it's not coming back. I thought that the prudent play for me was to hit it in the center of the green, even left center, and try and hit kind of a pull cut. If I hit a pull cut, it's going to have a little bit of distance to it, and it might have the shape where it might land up on top and feed down.
“I wasn't — if I happened to hit it on top, so be it; it was just work out a two‑putt. But when I hit it, a little bit of gust came up, and it stalled out and it ended up catching the ridge and coming back.”
I’ve played No. 17 twice in my life. I’m no Tiger Woods. I put about 1 percent of the strategy that Woods did in my tee shot. That is what amazes me about how the Woods/Garcia situation developed Sunday. There was a difference of four strokes on that single hole and both were up to their hips in pressure and need.
That play and result on No. 17 speaks volumes about how Woods is playing golf right now. His mindset, discipline, focus and execution are something to behold.
After Sunday's win, Woods ranks No. 1 in FedEx Cup points with 2,340, some 866 ahead of second-place Brandt Snedeker. Woods has four wins and five top-10 finishes. Nobody on the tour has more than one win. Nobody is consistent enough but Tiger to win twice in five months.
In Woods last 24 rounds of stroke play, 22 of them have been under par. He ranks No. 1 in strokes gained putting on Tour.
You may hate him, or you may be one of his biggest fans.
Bottom line is we are witnessing the comeback of one of the game's most remarkable stars.
And it's fun.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].