Tiger Woods: Reclaiming No. 1 a Huge Step but Comeback Not Quite Complete

Ben AlberstadtFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2013

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 25:  Tiger Woods reacts to a birdie attempt on the 9th hole during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 25, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Following his incredible eighth win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and return to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings, are there still any "Tiger's back" doubters out there?

I must raise my hand as one, unfortunately. Although Tiger has certainly returned to form, winning three of his first five starts on the PGA Tour this year, and he is putting the way he used to—he entered the week sixth in strokes gained putting—the comeback is not complete.

Tiger won't truly be back until he does something he hasn't done since defeating Rocco Mediate in heroic fashion at the 2008 U.S. Open—win a major. 

Of the innumerable things you can say about Tiger's three-stroke victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the fact that he has won six of his last 20 PGA Tour events sticks out immediately. Tiger is now winning nearly 30 percent of the tournaments he enters, which is about the rate he did during his previous periods of dominance from 1999-2003 and 2005-2009.

By this token, then, Woods has returned to his winning ways. Entering Augusta, he is primed to win a major. Certainly, he has to be the runaway favorite at every sports book on both sides of the pond. However, no amount of superlative play outside of majors will complete the comeback for Woods from the very dark place he went to after colliding with a fire hydrant in November of 2009.

Last year, Tiger began the season with quality play and a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as well, and it seemed everyone was ready to give him the green jacket before he stepped on the course at Augusta National.

Although his play this year is admittedly vastly superior, it's worth remembering that Tiger shot 72-74 on the weekend at Augusta last year en route to a T-40 finish. 

Tiger didn't like the suggestion put forth by Steve Sands in an interview immediately after the round that he might not be truly "back" until he wins a major, but he must assuredly feel that way about his own return. 

Stuck on 14 majors for nearly five years now, Woods will only have returned to glory when he's won his 15th. I believe he would agree with this statement. This isn't to minimize the significance of opening 2013 with three victories or the fact that during the final rounds of his last two wins, opponents seemed stuck in neutral in the way they did during previous eras of Woods-ian dominance.

For Woods, however, the comeback from the hours of rehabbing countless injuries, the reps on the range at dusk, the public embarrassment and the erosion of his confidence will not be complete until he's wearing a green jacket, lifting the Claret Jug, The Wanamaker or the U.S. Open Championship Trophy.