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Out of the Rough: Tiger is officially back

Mon 2nd, July 2012

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Let it be told that on Sunday, July 1, 2012, Tiger Woods is back.

He won for the third time in this calendar with his victory at his own event, the AT&T National.

There may be no more questions on the topic. It is all over and done.

I know it, you know and, most importantly, Tiger knows it.

"It was just a matter of time. I could see the pieces coming together," Woods said after the win on Sunday. "I had basically a year away from it because I was hurt. I couldn't practice and changing systems. Give me a little bit of time, and I feel like this is what I can do."

We've heard this rhetoric for a while, but now he has results backing him up. No other player has three wins on tour this season. Only one other guy in the history of the sport has more wins than him all-time.

He's 36 years old. Jack Nicklaus, who he just went by on the wins list, got his last title at the 1986 Masters. Remember that one? Nicklaus was 46.

Woods is one win away from breaking the $100 million mark in career earnings. That number is staggering. It's breathtaking, and again, he's 36. Granted, Woods' body has come up frail throughout his whole career, but you have to believe he has close to 10 years of prime golf left.

These career accomplishments aren't the reason why Woods is back post-scandal.

The reason is swagger.

When Woods was killing everyone on tour, he was killing everyone's spirit in the process. Every time he had a big lead, the guy in his pairing knew Woods wasn't coming back to him. That poor fella had to go get Woods, which meant he had to play more aggressively, which went meant more mistakes were likely, which meant that would happen and then Tiger won by eight.

Sunday's win was no runaway. Bo Van Pelt held tough until the 17th, but Woods had an aura about him on this sultry Sunday.

It was no more evident than the 18th hole.

Armed with a 1-shot lead, Woods pulled the driver out of the bag on 18. After small gasps of shock, Woods crushed the big stick down the middle. With 182 yards to go, he hit a 9-iron, then the telling moment.

Woods hit it so purely, he knew it would be perfect. After impact, he strutted down the fairway like Tony Manero going to dance in "Saturday Night Fever." That walk said, "Perfect, just like I planned, give me my trophy."

"When I hit it, I knew it was good," Woods deadpanned.

That swagger has been missing. It comes with winning and Woods is doing that now.

The naysayers will say nay.

"He hasn't won a major yet, so he can't be back."

That's a decent point, but look at the two guys who've won majors.

It's pretty hard to imagine a guy with a green jacket being hard to spot, but Bubba Watson has been non-existent pre and post Masters. Granted, most of that has to do with a new baby in the fold, but Watson hasn't had the year Tiger has.

Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open, but had four nondescript top 10s prior to Olympic Club.

Golf is a major-driven sport. Tiger believes that more than anyone or he wouldn't have taped Nicklaus' records to his bedroom wall. But, with three wins in 12 starts (one WD), can you claim either of these guys is having a better year than Woods because they won a specific tournament.

For most, a major win will be what it takes to cement Woods' status as the player he once was. No one here is claiming he will be that same player. It's too hard to be that excellent for that long.

Another possible argument against Woods' return is that where he's winning these events are comfortable spots.

Prior to this year, Woods won 11 times at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial and AT&T National. It's easy to play well at venues when you're that comfortable at them, but wins are wins.

Woods is the best player in the world right now. Who cares what some math equation spits out? With all of your money on the line, would you take Luke Donald, Lee Westwood or even Rory McIlroy to win a tournament over Tiger right now?

Of course you wouldn't.

And now that's it.

I was skeptical, but on Sunday I was not. In my blood, I knew this event was over. It was Tiger's tournament and he delivered. That was a first since the sex scandal.

He's not going to win every time, those days are over. But now you can reasonably assume he will win when he's in contention.

He has his strut again.

So, on a sweltering hot day, amidst the ruin of a brutal storm leaving behind power outages, property damage and splintered trees, the biggest thing left behind was the question.

Tiger Woods is back.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- As odd as it was, the decision to not allow spectators on the course Saturday at Congressional was a no-brainer. Destruction was everywhere and what kind of a disaster would it have been had someone got hurt on the premises? Safety first.

- An interesting aspect to Woods' return to grace is that he is playing events he never did before. It started at the Honda Classic and will continue this week at the Greenbrier Classic.

- I detest the decision to start the 2014 FedExCup season in the fall of 2013. The European Tour did this for years, and stopped recently. It's an unnecessary nuisance. The idea behind it is to elevate the Fall Series tournaments making them worth points in the following year's FedExCup race. It won't work. Tiger played a Fall Series event last year because Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples asked him to in order to play on the team. Big-name stars won't show up for these tournaments when, if they perform the way they should, they can contend for the year-long race starting on the West Coast after January.

- U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III added Couples and Mike Hulbert as two of his four assistant captains. Hulbert earned praise in 2002 as an assistant to Curtis Strange. The Couples' choice is beyond easy to make. He's won the last two Presidents Cups, will be back for another in two years and his style is perfect for these events. Players don't need to be constantly reminded how significant the matches are. They feel the pressure already. Laid-back is the way to go and does anyone on earth exude laid-back more than Fred Couples.

- Speaking of Couples, with his record at the Presidents Cup, and this upcoming stint as an assistant, I think he's the new front-runner for the American Ryder Cup captaincy in 2014. There's a void age-wise for the U.S. side. His leadership two years from now pushes David Toms to 2016, then guys like Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk get into their mid-40s by 2018.

- Love said he will take two more touring pros as his other assistants. My hunch is Leonard, and if Stricker or Furyk don't find their way to the team in late September, one of them gets the gig. Brad Faxon is a dark horse.

- Four assistant captains for a 12-man team is a colossal waste of wardrobes.

- The U.S. Women's Open is this week. In recent history, the winners have been unknowns, or good Americans. I think it's time for a good American, so I'm going with Stacy Lewis.

- Movie moment - With a 4 1/2-month-old child at home, we don't get to the movies, but I'd like to see "Ted." Problem is, I've seen "Ted" for 10 years. It seems to be called "Family Guy."

- TV moment - "True Blood" is the most ridiculous thing in the history of modern civilization. "The Newsroom" is still adequate. Wake me up in September.

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