Tiger Woods is back in the winner’s circle, but is he back to being the world’s top golfer?


The fist pump was back for Tiger Woods on Sunday at the Memorial. (JOHN SOMMERS II/REUTERS)
June 4, 2012

The road back to the winner’s circle was a long and windy path for Tiger Woods, but with a vintage Sunday showing in the final round of the Memorial, the former World No. 1 showed he’s rounding back into form. It was fitting that the breakout performance came at the tournament Jack Nicklaus built. As the Associated Press reported:

Tiger Woods was at his best Sunday at the Memorial. He hit nearly every shot just the way he wanted, worked the gallery into a frenzy with one last charge over the final hour and left everyone buzzing — especially Jack Nicklaus — with a shot they will talk about for years.

Better yet was the timing of his 73rd win.

Woods tied Nicklaus for career PGA Tour victories at the tournament that Jack built. And the 14-time major champion suddenly looks equipped to resume his chase of another Nicklaus mark that is more significant — 18 major championships.

The U.S. Open starts in 11 days.


Jack Nicklaus, left, and Tiger Woods talk after Woods won the Memorial golf tournament. With his victory, Woods tied Nicklaus with 73 career PGA tour victories. (Tony Dejak/AP)

With a chip-in that even Woods called one of the toughest shots he ever made, he birdied three of his last four holes to close with a 5-under 67 and turn a two-shot deficit into a two-shot victory over Rory Sabbatini and fast-closing Andres Romero.

If nothing else, Sunday’s showing provided a glimpse of the old Woods, whose booming drives and killer putts brought galleries to their feet nearly every time he stepped onto the course. The sights and sounds at the final round of the Memorial were no different. As the AP reported:

For those who thought Tiger Woods’ run as the world’s best golfer was over, the 747-sized roar that emanated from the 16th green at Muirfield Village likely shocked them to their senses.

With one flick of his wrists, Woods reminded everyone of who he was and what he has done.

Woods slid a 60-degree sand wedge under a ball hidden by tall grass behind the 16th green, popped the ball straight up into the air where it seemed to hang for an instant, and then watched as it rolled ever so slowly toward the cup before dropping in for a 50-foot birdie that tied him for the lead at the Memorial Tournament on Sunday.

If that birdie served notice, then another on a sneaky-fast 10-foot downhill putt at the 18th assured him of his fifth victory at the tournament that Jack Nicklaus built.

So, Tiger was asked, do you think you’re back?

“I won,” he joked with a wide smile. “I’m sure by Tuesday I’ll be retired and done, and then by the time I tee it up at the U.S. Open (at Olympic Club in San Francisco in 11 days) it might be something different. But I’ll let you guys figure that out.”

The victory re-established Woods as a prime contender — and the likely front-runner — for the Open, but his up and down year begs the question: Is the best golfer in the world really back? Post columnist Tracee Hamilton pondered that question:

Here we go again. Tiger Woods is the U.S. Open champion. Tear up your tickets. Print up the T-shirts. Plan to watch something else with dad June 17, something cheery like “The Killing.” No need to hold a tournament when Woods has been declared the winner. Like earlier this year, when he was installed as Masters champion after winning at Bay Hill — despite the fact that it was his first PGA Tour victory since 2009.

Oh wait. That ended more poorly than season 1 of “The Killing”: Woods tied for 40th at Augusta, the golf equivalent of making us wait another season to find Rosie Larsen’s murderer. Then he slammed the trunk Friday at Quail Hollow — funny, the same thing happened to poor Rosie — and tied for 40th again at the Players Championship.

But Woods won Sunday at the Memorial, the Jack Nicklaus tournament he loves almost as much (five wins) as he loves Arnold Palmer’s tournament (seven).

So now he’s back — back to winning tournaments on courses he loves. That’s it, for now. His 2012 career trajectory could be charted using a pen attached to a bungee cord. You could get whiplash watching him bob up and down leader boards. He could certainly win the U.S. Open; he could certainly miss the cut at the U.S. Open. I’m eager to find out which — I’ll record “The Killing” and watch him instead, assuming he’s still in the game on Sunday night — but I’m not declaring him back.

Neither is he.

“I’ll let you guys figure that out,” he told the increasingly predictive media.

More from Washington Post Sports:

Hamilton: Tiger Woods finishes in front at Memorial, but is he back?

In Jack’s house, Tiger rallies to win Memorial and match Nicklaus in career wins

Doug Ferguson (AP): Wait until end of the year before measuring Woods

Final scores from the Memorial

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