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Tiger Roars To First Title In Two Years

Johnie Freatman |
December 6, 2011 | 12:09 p.m. PST

Associate Sports Editor


Woods finally has something to smile about again. (Keith Allison via Creative Commons)
Woods finally has something to smile about again. (Keith Allison via Creative Commons)
After a futile two years marred by scandal, injury, and overall ineffectiveness, Tiger Woods provided a return to normalcy for the golf world on Sunday with a stirring victory at the Chevron World Challenge, his first worldwide win since “the fire hydrant that changed everything.”

However, the biggest takeaway from Woods’ triumph isn’t the victory itself but what it could portend to. For the first time in a long time, he looked like the Tiger of old, capable of eventually reclaiming his perch on top of the golf landscape, as engaged and hungry as ever.

As he dueled Zach Johnson down the stretch, Woods flashed the swagger that once endeared him to so many fans. Not only was he producing great, clutch golf shots, he was reacting as such. 

The unmistakable “Tiger stare” was back as he stalked his approach shot at 18. Woods’ “twirl” of the club, a sign of satisfaction and confidence, was frequently seen at Sherwood Country Club as well.

Ultimately, Woods’ joy and relief was most evident in his most well known gesture, the victory fist pump. It may not have been the Masters or really anything more than a small field event in December, but Woods’ reaction showed just how big this was for him.

As his caddie Joe LaCava said, "Winning means everything to him, whether it's an 18-man field or Augusta National."

With this win, more than a few people at Sherwood could be heard saying some variation of “Yep, Tiger is back.”

Whether or not he actually is, this marked the culmination of a stretch of marked improvement for Woods.

Ever since he decided to change swing coaches and go to Sean Foley, Woods had struggled to sustain momentum, if he would even get any in the first place.

Then again, as he’s referenced, with the amount of time he missed due to injury, he simply hadn’t been able to work enough on implementing the new swing while healthy.

Consider this tournament, and this last month for that matter, the confluence of extensive practice with Foley and a previously injured knee that he says feels stronger than ever.

Woods first showed signs that he was coming around in November’s Australian Open, where he contended but ultimately came up short, finishing third. Woods’ undoing Down Under was a third-round 75 that negated three rounds of 68 or lower. A hallmark of Woods’ previous dominance was posting respectable scores on days when he didn’t have his best.

Still, his improvement carried over to The Presidents Cup, where he vindicated Fred Couples’ controversial decision to make him a Captain’s pick, clearly progressing as the event went along. Woods’ swing looked very impressive in hitting 17 of 18 greens in his Saturday afternoon match before everything came together in his commanding 4&3 singles victory over Aaron Baddeley to clinch the Cup.

Woods brought this momentum to Sherwood, where he was a factor from the get-go. An impressive second-round 67 gave him a three shot lead heading into the weekend and he refused to be perturbed after relinquishing the lead to Johnson, who took a one-stroke advantage into Sunday.

By the back nine, it was clear that this was going to be a two-man race between Woods and the former Masters champion, and that Woods would have to make a run because the steely Johnson wasn’t making mistakes.

Down one stroke with two to play, a familiar script was written for Woods, one he relishes and has performed so many times.

A solid tee shot on 17 gave him a birdie look that he converted, eliciting the penultimate fist pump as he tied Johnson.

After Johnson hit his approach to within 12 feet on the 18th hole, it was Woods’ turn and he was faced with a situation familiar to what he faced at this same tournament last year. He liked the shot from the beginning and walked after it, staring as it settled six feet beyond the cup.

Johnson’s putt never had a chance to go in, leaving the proceedings up to Woods under a setting sun. Woods calmly poured it in the middle of the hole before unleashing the fist pump and a yell.

Though the celebration wasn’t loud enough to be heard in Asia, it sent a resounding statement to the golf world and those who had just played in the UBS Hong Kong Open, including winner Rory McIlroy, long considered by many to be on the cusp of golf domination.

With McIlroy and other young stars emerging, the timing for Woods’ reemergence couldn’t be better. As exciting as the 2012 season promises to be, Woods was content Sunday night to focus on his latest win.

“It just feels awesome”, he said.


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