Just like that — 932 days since winning an official PGA Tour event — Tiger Woods is back. Just like that — two weeks after withdrawing on the 12th hole of a tournament and limping off — he resembles his old self again. And just like that — seven years since his last victory in the Masters — Woods is favored to win next week at the Augusta National.
"It feels really good," he said Sunday after his dominating, five-shot victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. "It's been a lot of hard work."
Woods' drought began after the fateful car accident on Thanksgiving night in 2009, leading to his failed marriage and fall from grace. Though the victories dried up, his status as golf's focal point never waned. He continues to influence TV ratings, attendance and buzz like no golfer ever, and like no athlete since Michael Jordan. When Woods shot 62 in the final round of the Honda Classic earlier this month, ratings were up 78 percent compared with last year.
The Achilles injury that forced him out of the Cadillac Championship on March 11 caused alarm, leading many to question whether he could play in the Masters. At the time, Woods was playing some of his best golf in recent memory, but injuries continued to dog him. He had surgery for the fourth time on his left knee in 2008 — and has had trouble with both Achilles since then.
But the ridiculous standards he set in becoming the world's No. 1 golfer colored his winless streak. Even with all the injuries, revamped swing and personal turmoil, Woods still competed on a high level in some of the biggest tournaments. He finished fourth in the last two Masters and fourth in the 2010 U.S. Open Championship (the last one he played).
"I just felt that I've been making steps in the right direction," Woods said Sunday in his post-tournament news conference. "It just had not shown up for all four days yet. And I've been so close to putting it together … But it's just a yard here and a yard there. I just said, be patient, it's coming."
That's good news for Woods and his fans. But not so much for the golfers he'll compete against in the Masters next week.
"He's always a force to be reckoned with when he's not playing his best golf, and obviously he's playing a lot of good golf right now," said Ian Poulter, who finished third. "The shots he's hit, just looking at the highlights, he's got a lot of his game back. And when he starts rolling putts in, he's dangerous. So he's going to be a force for everybody at Augusta."