By Jay Betsill
We just go out there and play,” said Tiger Woods following his May 12 win at the Professional Golfers Association Players Championship. “I had an opportunity to win the golf tournament when I was tied for the lead today, and I thought I handled the situation well and really played well today when I really needed to. And that’s something I’m excited about it.”
Woods won the Players for the first time since 2001 joining Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Hal Sutton and Steve Elkington as the only two-time winners at TPC Sawgrass. It was the 78th career win on the PGA Tour for the world’s No. 1 player, four short of Sam Snead’s all-time record. Woods finished at 13-under-par 275 and earned $1.71 million, putting his season total to more than $5.8 million in only seven tournaments. It was Woods’ 300th PGA Tour start and interestingly, he also won in his 100th and 200th events.
“You have to be on top of your game and hit all the shots,” said Joe LaCava, Woods’ caddie, who also won here with Fred Couples in 1996. “There was no fear at all. He was hitting the exact shots that were called for. He’s driving it better, his iron game is more precise. He’s working it both ways. He’s putting well, but honestly he didn’t make a lot of putts this week. He missed some putts or it wouldn’t have been close.”
This is the 12th season Woods has won at least four times (he won earlier this year in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Cadillac Championship at Doral and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill). Before Woods joined the PGA Tour at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open, winning four events in a single year was the gold standard of a good season. This also is the quickest he has reached four wins in a year. The only other time he did it before June 1 came in 2000, when he went on to win the next four majors for what became universally known as the “Tiger Slam.”
So now comes the question that pops up every time Woods is in the PGA Tour winner’s circle: “Is Tiger back?” The answer is still the same. When Tiger wins another major, it can be said that he has fully recovered from the fall from grace that began with the Thanksgiving 2009 scandal and also has included injuries and changes of caddies and swing coaches. With his last major victory coming at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, there are those who say his chance of chasing down the great Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles are over. Others say it is still possible, but having sat on 14 majors for so long, it is highly unlikely.
Then there is CBS broadcaster David Feherty. During a recent interview on Jim Rome on Showtime, the golfer turned announcer told Rome he fully expects Tiger to be “back and better than he was before.”
After watching Tiger during the Players, considered by many a PGA Tour marquee event and by most golf fans the ‘Fifth Major’ with its strong field, it is hard to disagree with Feherty. It certainly had a very familiar vibe to the big events Woods won in his glory days as he was playing smart. Those who had a chance to challenge him simply crumbled in his presence, in this instance Sergio Garcia and Jeff Maggert who each hit in the water on the famed No. 17.
If Feherty is indeed correct about Tiger, it is good news for the networks. The final round of The Players drew the highest overnight rating (5.9) for a non-major PGA Tour telecast since the 2006 Buick Invitational, also won by Woods. The previous high this season was 4.4 for the final round at Doral, where Woods notched the second of his four wins. That Sunday’s overnight matched the 2001 Players (won by Tiger) as the highest tournament rating since 1991. The Sunday rating was up 68 percent from last year (3.4), when Matt Kuchar won by two shots.
While those PGA Tour players not named Tiger made the trek to DFW in May for the HP Byron Nelson Championship in Las Colinas and Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in Fort Worth, Woods was preparing for his next major test, the 2013 U.S. Open scheduled June 13-16 at the East Course of the Merion Golf Club just outside of Philadelphia. After closing out the Players on Mother’s Day, should Woods be victorious on Father’s Day at Merion, it will be safe to say the world’s top-ranked player is indeed back.