For Tiger, many more wins to follow
The signs have been pointing to victory for months. Tiger Woods, in fact, maintains that his win Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was his second along the comeback trail, the Chevron World Challenge title not to be forgotten. No matter, he now has gotten the "official" distinction out of the way, which ought to lead to even more success.
Nobody should get carried away and think that Woods is going to go on a rampage and win six, eight tournaments a year. Those days, most likely, are done -- even if Woods scoffs at the notion. But his victory by five shots at a place where he has now won seven times gets him past a significant mental hurdle, and the way he has been playing sets up particularly nicely for the majors.
"This was coming," Woods said. "I've been close a number of times, basically since Australia. Just had to stay the course. We all knew the things that we were working on were coming together, and were starting to solidify because the golf ball was not moving, just going so straight and the ball flight is so tight. The hardest adjustment I've had to make is just getting my distances and hitting the ball further."
It's never a bad thing when a player is having to adjust because the ball is going too far. Woods routinely won in the old days because of a remarkable short game, sometimes making up for deficiencies in his long game. Now he is hitting it farther and straighter than he has in some time. Amazingly, he leads the PGA Tour's total driving statistic, and at Bay Hill he overwhelmed the field by hitting more greens in regulation than anyone else.
And what better recipe is there for major championship success? At venues where birdies are typically at a premium, giving yourself the most chances, the most looks, is paramount. Being able to hit a variety of shots in difficult conditions where setups are demanding typically separates the contenders. Even at far from his best, Woods tied for fourth at each of the past two Masters. His play of late suggests he'll be there again.
Still, there is room for improvement. Woods' wedge play -- seemingly the last piece -- has been a weakness. With his newfound length, the short irons are the scoring clubs. Look out if he gets those dialed in.
Meanwhile, Woods joins a long list of winners this season, with nobody having won more than once. Victories are tougher to come by, but he's tied for the lead in that category, now ranked sixth in the world and is filled with confidence. More victories inevitably will follow.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Won't be like old times for Tiger
In 2009, Tiger Woods won six times on the PGA Tour. That year both Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson had three wins. During Tiger's best years between 2000 and 2009, Mickelson and Vijay Singh were also prolific winners. It's easy to forget that Singh won nine times in 2004, matching Tiger's win total in his magical year of 2000.
In those years, the PGA Tour had a few dominant players. Today the top players are more likely to have nine top-10s than nine wins. In 2011, no player won more than twice on tour. Luke Donald, who was one of those players, won money titles on both the European Tour and PGA Tour because he had more top-10s than anybody else in the world.
So Tiger reemerges during a period of great parity in the game, where advances in equipment technology through the years have substantially closed the gap between the most talented players like Tiger and Phil and the guys struggling to keep their cards year after year.
There are simply too many good players now for Tiger to win as often Vijay and he did back in the day. Tiger might still have the most talent, but lots of other players now follow his examples of fitness and practice. He's not the only A student in the class anymore.
Rory McIlroy was one of those kids who grew up watching Tiger on the playgrounds of the PGA Tour. Tiger is now an elder statesman to a youth movement led by McIlroy and good crop of thirty-somethings that won't allow him to dominate again on the world stage.
In the end, Tiger will be lucky to ever win more than two times a year. A top-10, something that I'm sure he scoffs at as being beneath his calling and standing in the game, is probably going to become a truer reality for him than he ever could imagine. Just because he's supposed to win doesn't mean that it's always going to happen.
On Sunday at Bay Hill, no one put up a fight. It still would have been a great week for Tiger had Graeme McDowell beaten him in a playoff. McDowell isn't exactly a hack.
Just watch: Tiger might get back to No. 1 in the world with 10 top-10s and two wins. And Luke Donald might become the most realistic symbol of what a No. 1 player in the world is after all.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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