Tiger Woods holds the trophy after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational PGA tournament in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday. [China Daily]
Two weeks after another injury scare, and two days before his former coach's book goes on sale, Tiger Woods looked dominant as ever in that red shirt on Sunday to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
It was his first PGA Tour victory since a sex scandal at the end of 2009 led to one of the greatest downfalls in sports. And with the Masters only two weeks away, Woods looks more capable of ever than resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus in the majors.
Woods closed with a 2-under 70 for a five-shot win over Graeme McDowell.
The question two weeks ago was when he could play again. Now, it's whether he can get back to the player who once ruled golf.
Even though he won the unofficial Chevron World Challenge last December, this was meaningful for Woods - a full tour event against a strong field, and a performance so clean that he was never seriously challenged on the back nine.
The final hole was a mere formality, and Woods tapped his putter on the ground waiting for his turn, knowing that 30 months without a win on the PGA Tour was about to end. He walked off the green with his arm extended, waving his cap to a raucous gallery.
The only thing missing was the host.
Palmer's blood pressure increased during the final round from new medications, and he was taken to a hospital about 15 minutes before the tournament ended as a precaution. Alaistair Johnston, vice-chairman at IMG and his longtime business manager, said Palmer would be kept overnight. "Nobody is overly concerned," he said.
"It does feel good. It feels really good," Woods said before signing his card. "It's been a lot of hard work."
Woods finished at 13-under 275 for his 72nd PGA Tour win, one short of Nicklaus for second place on the career list. But that's not the record Woods wants. He has 14 majors, four short of the Nicklaus benchmark, and he tries to end a four-year drought at the Masters, which starts on April 5.
"I am excited, no doubt," Woods said. "I'm looking forward to the momentum I've built here."
It was the first time Woods had all four rounds under par since he returned from his personal crisis at the 2010 Masters.
McDowell made a 45-foot birdie putt and a 50-foot eagle putt early in the round to try to stay close, though he was never closer than two shots after starting with a double bogey. He closed with a 74.
Ernie Els failed in his bid to get into the Masters. The three-time major champion started the final round three shots behind, but twice missed par putts inside 3 feet and shot 75. He would have needed a two-way tie for second to crack the top 50 in the world. Instead, he tied for fourth and will have to win the Houston Open next week to avoid missing the Masters for the first time since 1993.
This day belonged to Woods, as it used to at Arnie's place.
Only two weeks ago, Woods was taken off Doral in the middle of the final round with tightness in his left Achilles tendon, the same injury that caused him to miss three months last year, including two majors. It turned out to be a mild strain, and Sunday was the eighth straight day that Woods played golf - starting with a practice round last Sunday at Augusta.
His injuries have received more attention in the past year than the personal life crisis that cost him his marriage and corporate support. But in the last week, Hank Haney's book - The Big Miss - was mailed out to various media outlets, another distraction for Woods.