Courtesy of MCT
Crouching on the 18th green, in his trademark red Nike polo, as Graeme McDowell sized up what would be his final putt of the day, Tiger Woods finally let it happen: he cracked a smile.
As NBC’s high definition cameras caught Woods’ pearly whites sparkle, fans and players of golf alike joined him. A 5-stroke victory for Woods at Bay Hill was an immeasurable victory for the game of golf.
It’s Woods’ first official victory on the PGA Tour in more than two years. As if Woods’ issues off the course weren’t enough trouble, his struggles on the course had fans and critics claiming Woods was done – he’d lost his once-incredible ability to play the most mentally challenging competitive sport on earth. On Sunday, at least for the now, he’s quieted the doubters.
Of course, there were some people not smiling on Sunday – and if they were, they shouldn’t have been. Mainly, everyone on the PGA Tour not named Tiger Woods should have been displaying whatever emotion it is he displays when struck with fear and terror.
“I’m looking forward to the momentum that I’ve built here,” Woods told NBC Sports after his final round on Sunday. “It’s all coming together at the right time.”
By “the right time,” Woods was referring to a little event played in Augusta, Ga., at the beginning of April called The Masters. With golf’s most prestigious event looming, Woods’ return to victory should make him a heavy favorite to win his fifth green jacket.
There will be those who mock fans of the game who say Woods is back, and that’s fine. But this is no fluke. This is the greatest player of the last 20 years getting his groove back. Those who pay attention to the game of golf have seen a guy over the past few events that they used to watch every weekend, knowing he would be in contention Sunday afternoon. Genuine fans of golf have watched him break the walls down through late winter, round by round and stroke by stroke, to get back to being the most competitive and exciting single athlete on earth.
The smile that we saw on 18 Sunday evening was more than just a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It was a sign that he’s back. It’s a smile that you’ll see repeatedly on ESPN leading up to The Masters and a smile that golf enthusiasts will remember forever, regardless of where Woods goes from here.
Only time will tell if Woods is truly back to be the most dominant player on the planet. What is for certain is that Woods will continue to play golf. We’ll continue to watch Woods and whether it is a smile on 18 or a barrage of four-letter words at the turn, the emotions will continue to pour. And those incredible highs and discouraging lows are why we love the game.