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Question remains until Woods wins another major

Tiger Woods at the 2013 WGC-Cadillac Championship
Getty Images

Is Tiger Woods back?

Just asking the question now makes some folks froth at the mouth.

You want to inspire a social media mob with pitchforks and torches, just ask that loaded question in the wake of Woods’ victory Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, his second title this young season.

There’s indignant outrage at the nature of the query for various reasons.

Is Tiger back?

Yeah, I’m asking, because contrary to the affront the question causes some sensibilities, it doesn’t just remain a fair and legitimate question today. It’s the question in golf. It’s the question in the sense of asking if Woods is back in the form required to resume the greatest quest in sports today. Is he back and ready to resume the chase that matters most in his career? Is he back with the game he needs to catch Jack Nicklaus and the Golden Bear’s record for major championship victories?

Is Tiger back? I’m not only risking the social media mob’s rage asking the question, I’m going to answer it.

No, Tiger is not back.

Now, before somebody bursts a brain vessel and presumes all sorts of things never asserted, I’m making that assessment in direct response to the specific parameters of my question. I’m not talking about whether Woods is back to the dominant form of his youthful prime. I’m talking about whether he’s back to having the game and the swing and the confidence it will take to catch Nicklaus.

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Get those pitchforks ready, there’s more . . . in this sense, Tiger won’t be “back” until he wins another major.

Yes, Tiger showed at Torrey Pines and Doral that he is in terrific form, that he is finding something special again. But, until he ends this five-year drought in the majors, he isn’t back in his game with Nicklaus. That game won’t feel as if it’s on again until Woods wins another major.

Apparently, even Nicklaus is thinking that way.

“I still think he can do it,” Nicklaus said earlier this month. “But, that said, he has still got to do it. He hasn’t won one in five years. He had better get with it if he’s going to.”

There are sincere and thoughtful voices who think the “Is Tiger back?” question is unfair in the way that it holds the 37-year-old Woods to the remarkable standard he set in his youthful prime. That’s not the nature of the question I’m asking. I’m only asking if Tiger’s game is back to where it gives him a chance to match and pass Jack’s record.

No, Tiger doesn’t have to be perfect to do that. He just has to be better than 156 or so players in a major to do that. Actually, he has to be better than 156 or so players in four majors to catch Jack and five to pass him.

Is Tiger back?

To be sure, there are semantics in the question, but he’s definitely looking like he’s ready to be back on that stage behind Augusta National's 18th green to accept a fifth green jacket next month.