When it mattered most, the Woods of old showed up

December 04, 2011
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The text message arrived before Tiger Woods even teed off for the final round of the Chevron World Challenge.


"He is going to do it," it said.

The author was Woods' coach Sean Foley, who was watching from home in Orlando.

Being Woods' coach, Foley is of course biased. But he also knows what he's seen from his star pupil the last couple of months -- and perhaps more importantly the last 12 months -- so he had reason to feel confident that Woods would end a two-year winless drought.

Winning is winning and that's all that mattered to Woods on Sunday when he shot 3-under 69.

Yes, the field was only 18 deep.

Yes, it wasn't an official PGA TOUR event -- though as Woods pointed out it does have world ranking points, and he won enough of those to climb back inside the top 25 in the world.

Yes, Woods still has just one win in the last 749 days.

But you have to start somewhere and at Sherwood seemed as good a place as any for Woods, who grew up in Southern California and has won here before.

It was the perfect place to turn a one-shot deficit into a one-shot victory in highlight-reel fashion.

In the weeks and months leading up to the Chevron, there have been signs of progress, too. Signs that Foley has seen. Signs that the rest of golf has seen.

Asked if he was surprised that, given Woods' lack of success these last two years, the world's former No. 1 finished birdie-birdie, runner-up Zach Johnson said, "No, not at all."

That's what Johnson is supposed to say, of course, but his lack of hesitation said more than the actual answer did.

Yes, Tiger is back -- at least he was on this day and that gives him a lot of confidence going into 2012.

"I think if I have a good year I should be on the ballot for Comeback Player of the Year," Woods joked.

Kidding aside, sitting at the podium was a position not even Woods could have imagined six months ago as he sat at home on his couch, his leg up and sidelined by another knee injury. Questions swirled about his game, his health and his future. Sunday's win provided at least some answers.

"I had to get healthy and to where I was strong and explosive again so I could practice," Woods said. "Then my practice sessions started building and building and building. I got better each week, and that's because I was healthy and able to get the reps in."

And it's showed in the results.

In October, playing in his first event in nearly two months after missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Woods strung together three straight rounds of 68. The scores were less important than the way he hit the ball.

In November, he finished third at the Australian Open, where he actually led going into the weekend.

The following week he made the clinching putt at The Presidents Cup.

Woods has certainly come a long way on the swing changes he's been working on under Foley.

"I'm pleased with the way I'm able to fix my swing out there," Woods said. "I know what I need to do to do it right."

A year ago, when Woods lost to Graeme McDowell in a playoff here, that wasn't the case. He could only hit the ball one way -- right to left -- and half the time had no idea where it was going.

Fast forward to Sunday and the video tape will look a lot different.

Add it all it up, and Woods has reason to feel comfortable -- a word he used several times Sunday -- being in a position he's been in plenty before.

"It just felt normal," Woods said. "I know it's been a while [since I won] but for some reason it feels like it hasn't because when I was coming down the stretch it felt comfortable.

"When the pressure was on the last two holes, I hit three of the best shots I hit all week. I pulled it off, one down with two to go. To go birdie-birdie is as good as it gets."