"How about Tiger? Did you see that chip on number four? Man, it's great to have him back."
If you are a sports fan, you probably had a conversation that started just like this at some point over weekend. I had that conversation twice on Sunday, first with the waiter at our favorite breakfast joint and second with my father, who can't be bothered with golf unless Woods is involved.
It's January, and people are talking about golf. Random people. Not even sports people. There is still, after all these years, just one man who can move the needle like that.
Tiger Woods is holding another PGA Tour trophy, once again winning a title at Torrey Pines. He had the courtesy—thank you, PGA for your smart scheduling—to do it on a weekend with no football (sorry Pro Bowl, you are not, nor ever will be, real football.)
The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines had to battle weather delays that created a Monday finish, but that only served to give us one extra day to revel in the fact that Tiger is back. Actually, battling slow play and cold temperatures on Monday, Tiger gave back some of his commanding weekend lead, finishing just four strokes ahead of the field after playing Monday's 11 holes in three-over par.
He's still back, right? Tiger is back? Little else matters in golf until spring when the entire sports world becomes fascinated by a few thousand azaleas in Georgia. Whether Tiger is or is not back seems to be a question that matters even to non-golf fans—perhaps it matters more to non-golf fans than those who most closely follow the game. With so much competition in our current sports landscape, it takes extraordinary circumstances for a sport to stand out above the rest. For golf, people care about the majors, the Ryder Cup and any tournament Woods is winning. That will never change.
The fact that Woods outpaced the field at Torrey Pines shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering he's won more than 10 percent of his 75 Tour victories on that course. With that, it's hard to know if Woods is "back" to his old self, re-creating a new self or just winning another trophy at Torrey Pines on sheer muscle memory.
This could, however, be a harbinger of things to come for Woods in 2013. Woods has not won a PGA Tour event in January since 2008 when he took home his fourth-consecutive Buick Open Championship (the tournament now sponsored by Farmers). Woods used the early season success as a springboard in each of those four campaigns, winning 25 times from the start of 2005 through the end of the 2008 season.
Since 2000, Woods has previously won a January tournament five times and has never won fewer than four events on tour in any of those seasons. Remember, since the start of the 2010 campaign, Woods has just three PGA Tour victories, all coming last season. A January win will certainly be a better start than the last four years provided.
History aside, one does have to wonder if the Tiger who won those previous January tournaments can be that same player in 2013. That's really half the fun of following Tiger, isn't it?
We want to believe The Farmers means something great for Woods in 2013 because, let's face it, the sport is more interesting when he's on top and the next generation has someone to chase.
It's not enough to watch the likes of Rory McIlroy chase the legacy that Woods has created; we want McIlroy and the young guns to actually chase Woods on the course. (I should say on the leaderboard, as chasing him on the course may violate several PGA rules.)
If Woods can stay healthy and scoring well as he heads into the Masters, the spring and summer of 2013 could be quite the seasons to remember for golf.
It's funny, though; for years we needed Woods to sit atop the world of golf as the protagonist, chasing the history laid out by those legends who came before him. Now, with Woods clearing way over the last three seasons for a new era of talent, we need Woods to be relevant—that, of course, means winning tournaments—to serve as foil for those to act as the game's future custodians.
Tiger is still the only player who can move the needle for golf, but that can only last so long. As the sport continues to transition away from Tiger's era of dominance, it will be so much more compelling if Woods, himself, is part of it. 2013 is off to a good start.