If there was any doubt whether Tiger Woods' return was for real, he dispelled any such skepticism at the Augusta National Golf Club.
Woods did not win, instead finishing in a tie for fourth at five under. Some might consider that a disappointment, as he was the favorite going in. His performance should come with a bit of an asterisk because of the two-stroke penalty he incurred for his drop on the 15th hole in the second round (h/t Rachel Nichols and Steve Almasy of CNN).
Perhaps he should have been disqualified by officials or even disqualified himself. On the other hand, mMaybe there wasn't even a rules violation, as Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports pointed out.
Either way, Woods' performance, while possibly disappointing in some fans' perspectives, was proof that this return is unlike the previous false dawns Woods has had since beginning his downward spiral.
Since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the hype train behind the world's No. 1 had been going into overdrive. Woods needed a strong performance at the Masters, and he duly delivered.
It's one thing to win at Bay Hill, a course Woods has clearly established a dominance over. Doing well at Augusta was a completely different beast.
Penalty aside, Woods had his problems and made his mistakes just like every other golfer in the tournament. For the most part, though, you saw him at what should be considered his best. Woods will never eclipse his imperious prime, but he can still remain one of the best in the world for years to come.
His game looks as complete as it has in years. If his driving and approach game were solid, his putting would let him down. If his putting was strong, everything else was a problem. Now Woods has it all together.
The putting, especially, has seen a marked improvement from where it's been in the last year or two. According to the PGA Tour's website, Woods is 10th in putts per round, first in total putting and has gained more strokes from putting than anyone on tour.
Let's not forget this time last year, he was coming off a Masters in which he finished 40th, shooting five over. To find himself in fourth is a massive improvement. Fourth-place finishes aren't going to get him any closer to Jack Nicklaus, but you can't expect him to suddenly start winning everything again.
His return has been in steps, and this is just another on his way to getting the elusive 18 major titles. If Woods continues this strong play, there's every reason to expect him to start winning majors again.
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