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Posted at 10:11 AM ET, 03/26/2012

After win, is Tiger Woods the Masters favorite?


Is the magic back for Tiger Woods? (David Cannon / Getty Images)

After 30 months without a victory, Tiger Woods shouted when he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday. Then he shouted again and hugged his caddie, Joe LaCava.

What exactly did Woods say, after a five-shot victory in the final tuneup before the Masters? “Effin’ yeah,” LaCava reported (via ESPN). “He said all the hard work has paid off.”

Woods described his victory at Bay Hill, his seventh there and his 72nd on the PGA Tour, a little differently. “Pure joy. Pure, absolute joy,” he told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after his 2-under 70 final round Sunday. “I just let it all go. I felt that once I knocked the ball onto the green there at 18, the tournament was over, but we’ve seen some interesting things happen this year on tour, so I had to get the job done and put the ball on the green first.”


Tiger Woods and caddie Joe LaCava have their first victory together. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP)

Woods was in a comfort zone at Bay Hill, just as he will be at the Masters, where he has won four times and will be trying to win his 15th major championship. There were no issues Sunday with any of his injuries — his balky back or Achilles or knee. And he seemed to be gaining confidence in his revamped game and in his recovery from the public disintegration of his private life. (Hopefully, he won’t see the New York Post’s cover.)

“It feels good just to come here and win in my hometown — I lived here for over a decade,” he said. “It means a lot to me, this tournament, with my kids being born here and with what Arnold’s done here and the community here. To win his event, especially this week it feels good.”

Publicly, Woods’s reaction was tempered by the hospitalization of the tournament’s 82-year-old host for high blood pressure late Sunday afternoon and, as he well knows, putting on the Bay Hill champion’s jacket is nothing like putting on the Masters’ green jacket. It has been almost four years since Woods has won a major (the 2008 U.S. Open) and he was content to let others consider whether there’s a new Tiger or whether the old Tiger is back...or some combination the two.

“Well, it's not like winning a major championship or anything,” he said, “but it certainly feels real good.”

LaCava, though, described Woods’s mindset a little differently. “The man was on a mission. He's pretty jacked. He probably wishes the Masters was tomorrow.”

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By  |  10:11 AM ET, 03/26/2012

 
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