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Tiger back on the prowl?

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Woods appears ready for Masters this week.

By Leland Stein III

At the risk of sounding like a homer, it was great watching golf again (lol). Especially since Tigers Woods was in the hunt for a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando. I’m not trying to minimizing the efforts of so many great golf professionals on the PGA Tour, including the up and coming group of young golfers that is making the sport as competitive as ever.

But for me, there is something – I have to use my ‘60’s vocabulary here – groovy about seeing Woods in his red shirt and black pants prowling the final 18 holes with a chance to win; it gets me kind of excited and eager to watch a slow game like golf on television. My wife was even watching the tournament off and on with me. She would periodically yell at me, “Is Tiger still in the lead?”

Now I’m pretty sure this was not just happening in the Stein household, but in many homes across the country. The documented PGA television rating when Woods is in contention clearly shows that the Stein household is not alone in this.

I’m sure thousands of others are wondering if Woods is really back and if this is his very real first step to getting back towards reclaiming world golf domination with his five-stroke victory at Bay Hill?

By ending his 30-month winless famine and triumphing for the 72th time on the PGA Tour, Woods showed that he’s quite capable of finishing first in an elite stroke-play tournament against a strong field.

He had not won since September 2009 and I was questioning if he had lost his mojo. I think that is what bothered me the most about Woods decent into the golf abyss. Surely any man that gets caught cheating on his wife is put in a position of scorn.

However, I was totally shocked that Woods let the media and public perceptions affect him so greatly that he appeared to lose his self-confidence and self-esteem. Now to be balanced, he did have very real injury problems that required surgery. Surely that had a negative effect on his ability to swing his clubs and negotiate a golf course.

But the style in which Woods won at Bay Hill is what got me giddy. He built a lead through the first three rounds with inspired all-around play. Final day competitor Graeme McDowell tried to make it interesting after Woods’ first-hole double bogey pushed his lead to three. However, Woods seemed to regain his mojo at Bay Hill. Yeah he tossed a club after a bad hit off a tee, and, the camera caught his cussing at himself after a makeable putt he missed. I like that passion. The fact of the matter is that is the type of energy it takes for any superstar athlete to ascend to the elite level.

We will all soon see if Woods’ rebirth is worthy of a cigar as the golf crown jewel, the Masters, start this week and he’ll be the favorite. Woods has never really given credence to the fact he has been on a protracted slump, instead he has always said he feels he can still win and every time out he expects to or at least tries to win.

No matter, after the Bay Hill win there was obvious joy in his demeanor and spirit as he walked off the course to rousing cheers. "It does feel good,” Woods told reporters just before signing his card. “It feels really good. It's been a lot of hard work."

Woods finished at 13-under 275 for his 72nd PGA Tour win, one short of Nicklaus for second place on the all-time career list. But that's not the record Woods wants. He has 14 majors, four short of the Nicklaus standard, and he tries to end a four-year drought at the Masters this weekend. For me, Woods at the 1997 Masters drowning in tears while in a prolonged embrace with his father, Earl, who was recovering from heart bypass surgery and ignored doctor’s orders by attending, took precedence for me over Tiger being the first man of color to win a major championship. He set a tournament-record 18-under-par 270 at the very young age of 21. He has won four Masters Titles overall. Leland Stein III can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII Tiger Woods at the Buick Open in 2009. – Andre Smith photo

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