LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Tiger Woods will tell you he never left. At the very least, though, even he can't deny there was a brief hiatus.
Now, after those three wins that ended a 30-month drought last year we certainly weren't surprised to see Woods hoisting another trophy on Monday, particularly at a venue where he now has eight victories. But this performance at the Farmers Insurance Open was reminiscent of the virtuoso turns he had in the early-to-mid 2000s before injuries and swing changes took their toll.
And it left us wondering what the rest of 2013 might bring.
Woods entered Monday's final 11 holes of the fog-delayed final round at Torrey Pines leading by six shots. By the time he birdied the 13th hole, Woods had lengthened that advantage to eight shots -- which would have matched his fifth largest margin of victory ever had he been able to coax it home.
He wasn't, but it really didn't matter. Woods admitted he became impatient with the glacial pace of play and uncharacteristically let it affect his game. He made two bogeys and a double bogey over the last five holes but by then he'd built enough of a "cush," as Woods likes to say, that he "just needed to stay upright and I was going to be fine."
"I played great this week," Woods said with conviction after converting a third-round lead into victory for the 50th time in 54 tries during his career. "Pretty much every facet of my game was going."
They were, indeed. The win was the 75th of his World Golf Hall of Fame career, which puts Woods just seven shy of Sam Snead's all-time record. He's done something no one else has ever done, too -- winning a third tournament seven times in his career.
Of course, that doesn't include the 2008 U.S. Open, which also finished on a Monday here at Torrey Pines when Woods, playing on essentially one leg, beat Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole playoff.
And if history is any indication, this year could be a big one for Woods, too.
He has won his season debut on the PGA TOUR seven times now -- and in the other six years, Woods has gone on to win a combined 37 titles, five of which were majors. For the mathematically challenged among us, that averages out to prodigious 6.16 wins per season.
"I didn't know of those stats, sorry," Woods would later say with a big grin. "Does it feel good? Yes. Does it give me confidence? Absolutely. ... I'm excited about this year."
Nick Watney, who was Woods' closest challenger for a few holes after defending champion Brandt Snedeker finished off his round of 69, was suitably impressed. In fact, he echoed a familiar refrain, at least to those who played against Woods prior to 2008.
"I don't know if anyone would have beaten him this week," Watney said. "He's definitely on his game. When he gets like that you have to play your best to compete and unfortunately, I didn't today.
"But I'd love to have a shot at him sometime."
Woods, on the other hand, likely has his sights set elsewhere.
The man who spent a record 623 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world hasn't held that title for more than two years now. Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and now his buddy Rory McIlroy have all spent time in that spot, and while he would be reluctant to admit it, Woods surely would like to get it back.
McIlroy, who recently joined Woods in Nike's stable and as a commercial star, has spent a total of 32 weeks as the world's top player, including the last 25 straight. He's also won two majors since Woods earned his 14th and most recent right here at Torrey Pines.
The challenge for Woods is simple. He needs to win, early and often, just as he did on Monday.
"That's how I got there in the first place," Woods said. "That's how he got there. It's winning golf tournaments, being consistent. Your bad weeks are going to be Top 10s, and when you win, you win. And you've got to be consistently winning."
The Farmers Insurance Open, then, certainly was a good start.