Tiger back on top of the TOUR with year's third win

July 01, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

BETHESDA, Md. -- Tiger Woods has a memory like an elephant, and he's kicking what was once the elephant in the room right out the door.

"I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again," Woods said. "That was, I think, what, six months ago?"


Woods has done just that, however. After a span of 923 days without a PGA TOUR victory, he has won three times in his last seven starts, each victory more impressive than the last.

His latest came Sunday at Congressional Country Club, which played more like a U.S. Open than when it hosted last year's U.S. Open. He played it like one, too, grinding out pars when he needed to and making a dramatic birdie when the opportunity presented itself.

With the victory at the AT&T National, Woods also moved past Jack Nicklaus in career wins on the TOUR with his 74th. Next stop Sam Snead and his 82.

This one was nothing short of legendary, either.

Woods saved his tournament from the trees on the 12th hole, where he hooked his second shot around a tree that was close enough to his swing path for him to warn the gallery that his 9-iron might snap. It didn't, but the result was spectacular as the ball improbably found the putting surface.

Then, with Bo Van Pelt tied for the lead and considerably closer on the par-4 15th, Woods' 22-footer for birdie crawled into the hole and whipped the overflowing crowd into a frenzy.

Van Pelt hit back by making his putt, too, but he'd eventually discover what so many others have before: It's hard to beat the best player on the planet.

That's what Woods is in the eyes of Van Pelt.

"No offense to any of those other guys, but he's the only guy to win three tournaments on TOUR this year;" said Van Pelt, who assisted Woods by bogeying his final three holes. "On three different golf courses, and he was leading the U.S. Open after two days. So I'd say that he's playing the best golf in the world right now."

Projected points
Tiger Woods took the lead in the season-long race with his win at Congressional. Projections

Can anyone really argue otherwise?

When asked what parts of his game have come around the last six months, Woods' answer was simple: Everything.

Golf is a game of numbers and Woods' don't lie. He leads the FedExCup standings, ranks first in scoring average, fifth in total driving, 10th in greens in regulation and 14th in strokes gained-putting.

At Congressional, it wasn't much different.

Woods played the back nine Sunday in even par with clutch saves on Nos. 11 and 12 and the aforementioned birdie on the 15th. He didn't miss a single putt inside 10 feet, either.

Even Woods' bad shots weren't as bad as they could have or would have been six months ago.

On the par-5 16th, the window of opportunity was cracked ever so slightly for Van Pelt when Woods hit a wedge a few yards too far and the ball bounded off the back of the green and down a shaved bank, leaving him a tricky fourth shot and an almost certain bogey if not worse.

Van Pelt helped Woods' cause by flubbing his third shot and leaving it in the greenside rough, but Woods did what he always used to do: He took the big number out of play.

Tiger's Victory Room

Get all the information on each of Tiger Woods' 74 career PGA TOUR victories. VICTORY ROOM
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All-time wins leaders
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Margins of victory
Final-round pairings

"I just wanted to leave myself a putt," Woods said. "Don't need to be a hero and try to get it close."

He did just that, and though he missed the putt it was only a hiccup at Congressional, where at one point Woods went 41 straight holes without making bogey before the one on the 16th.

"I've been out here a long time, and I understand what it's like to have to grind and fight because each shot means something," Woods said. "The first day, the first shot is just as important as the 72nd hole. They all count the same."

Not every win does, though, especially with what Woods has been through on and off the golf course.

To paraphrase from "The House of the Seven Gables" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, people are always rising and falling in America.

Woods has done his share of the latter the last couple of years, but America loves a good comeback story, too.

The last time Woods had a start to his season like this was in 2009 when he won at the very same venues; Bay Hill, Murifield Village and Congressional. He went on to win his second FedExCup that season.

"I had a good year that year" Woods recalled. "I think I won six times that year. That would be nice if I could get that same total with a couple majors in there."

After more than two years of questions and doubt, it certainly seems possible.