Tiger Woods wore a smile late Sunday at the Buick Invitational that we hadnt seen since Oct. 5, 2003, to be exact. That was the last time he had won an official PGA Tour stroke play event.
It reappeared yesterday at Torrey Pines South when Tom Lehman faded, Luke Donald self-destructed and Charles Howell was visited by cruel misfortune on the 72nd hole.
Donald hit it where you cant on the 14th and 17th holes. Lehman bogeyed the last two and Howell slam-dunked a wedge on the 18th, only to have the ball catapult back out of the jaws of the cup and back down into the greenside water hazard.
The end result was a three-shot victory for Woods and a sense that, in some way, the cosmic balance had been restored to professional golfs universe.
This is not to say that the golf gods owed Woods. They never owe any player anything. And its not to say Woods is somehow inherently more deserving than any other player in the field.
Lee Trevino put it best years ago when Jack Nicklaus was the dominant player of his era. Let the big dog eat, Trevino said.
He was referring to the fact that any time Nicklaus won back in that day it was good for the game. This was because Nicklaus was the driving force on the competitive landscape. Like Arnold Palmer before him, Nicklaus was bringing people to golf and forcing editors to play his achievements, especially in the majors, above the fold on the first page of the sports section.
Thats why Woods 41st career victory was good for the game. Despite the fact that Vijay Singh is the No. 1 ranked player in the world and a cinch to be voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year, Woods is golfs Big Dog.
Its just that his game, for the last 18 months or so, had picked up fleas. He had left instructor Butch Harmon, hired Hank Haney and set about revamping his swing. It was a painful process and its still a work in progress.
Lord knows, this wasnt one of Woods prettiest wins. He finished 68th in the field in driving accuracy for the week and 49th in greens in regulation. Woods was second in putting but missed a short birdie putt on the 71st hole that would have put him in the drivers seat playing in the last group with Lehman.
Instead Wood had to survive a fanned 2-iron on the par 5 final hole that, only be sheer force of good luck, didnt wind up in the water fronting the green.
Not to worry and not to matter. The point is Woods finished with fewer strokes than anybody else. Sometimes a player wins a tournament. Sometimes a tournament wins a player. There was a lot of the latter at work at Torrey Pines.
Woods has been telling us for some time now that he is close. Hes not all the way there yet. But he has won again on the PGA Tour.
And for now, thats close enough.
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