As Tiger Woods sank his par putt on the 18th at Bay Hill, the expression on his face was one that I have never seen from him before.
He didn't throw his hat and he did not give a vintage Tiger Woods fist pump. Instead, he looked as if the weight of the world was lifted from his shoulders.
Woods needed this win worse than LeBron needs a ring. His victory at Arnie's place was not for his fans, nor was it to stick it to Hank Haney or Steve Williams.
This win was for Tiger. It was to prove to himself that he can still do what he used to do in his sleep.
Over the past two years, golf fans have witnessed a sports icon fall from fame faster than anyone in history. The unflappable became flimsy. The unbeatable became pedestrian. Many even wrote him off completely.
His drives were consistently inconsistent, filled with double-crosses, pushes and Tiger's ultimate nemesis, hooks.
Tiger's putting was marred by mis-reads and a complete lack of confidence. His distance control with his irons was on par with the accuracy of Chuck Knoblauch.
But Bay Hill changed everything.
Tiger was hitting fairways consistently and hitting greens with regularity. On Sunday, he hit his first 10 greens of the day (and he was second in greens in regulation for the tournament). His putting stroke was as confident as it has been since a nine iron smashed through his windshield.
Golf fans also witnessed the return of Tiger's mental game. What we saw on Sunday was a story that we used to see unfold almost every week; Tiger stays strong as his competition crumbles around him.
Now comes the true test: Augusta. As impressive as his victory was at Bay Hill, many of his critics will not admit defeat unless Tiger wins a major.
In order to reclaim the green jacket, Tiger must attack this course in a similar way that he attacked Bay Hill. He must find the fairway off of the tee and hit greens. Fortunately for Tiger (and unfortunately for the rest of the field), he has found his vintage 2-iron stinger, which was a vital piece of his game when he used to dominate the sport.
Tiger's putting has to be on-point to have a chance at the Masters. There was a time when anything within five feet was a gimme, and we saw a glimpse of this at Bay Hill.
Most importantly, Tiger must keep his confidence flowing into Augusta. It's quite obvious that he is in much better shape physically than he has been in years past. His swing looks much more compact, and thanks to Sean Foley, he is striking the ball as solidly as he has in a long time.
One more thing worth mentioning: with his 72nd win at Bay Hill, he is now one behind Jack Nicklaus (73 PGA wins) for second place all time. Can you think of a better place for Tiger to tie Jack than at Augusta?
Tiger's mind is where it needs to be. He doesn't just believe he can win, he knows he can win.
And the rest of the field knows it too.
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