Tiger Woods did this after missing a long putt. Who IS this Tiger? (Scott Miller / Reuters)

Missing a long — and we do mean long — putt on the 18th green might have made Tiger Woods wince and curse in the past.

But on Monday, as he finished up his victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, this Tiger Woods just smiled and jokingly bit his putter after a 73-foot attempt just barely missed the cup. Who is this new guy? The simple answer is that this Tiger Woods had just won for the third time in 2013, putting him back atop the world rankings for the first time in 29 months and moving him within five wins of tying Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record of 82.

But there are other contributing factors, too. Woods wasn’t going to say that it has anything to do with being in a relationship with skier Lindsey Vonn, but he sounded happy when he spoke of taking a few days off and getting away.

He would, however, talk about his golf game. He has droned on so about reworking his game and recovering from injuries that it was easy to tune out the talk about his process. “You’ve got to be able to do it at home first, that’s where it all starts,” he said. “Then it feeds into coming out here and doing it on a Thursday, Friday and maybe a Saturday afternoon and then ultimately down the stretch on Sunday.

“Then, you’ve got to do it at a major championship. That process has been evolving and you can see the steppingstones. You can see it throughout my career when I’ve made changes . . . the incremental progress that I’ve made. Then eventually I get to a point where I start winning golf tournaments.”

He’s won six of them over the last 53 weeks and believes in himself and in his game. Now healthy, he’s winning — and winning decisively, just the way he used to.

“I know I can play this game at a high level,” he said. “I know I can be where I’m contending in every event, contending in major championships and being consistent day-in and day-out . . . if I got healthy.”

He heads into the Masters, which begins April 11, as the favorite to win his fifth green jacket. For a change, people are talking about his chase to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. They’re speaking respectfully of his game again; less often is he a punchline anymore. Woods knows full well that he has been stuck on 14 since the 2008 U.S. Open. He also knows that he measures his career by wins in majors.

“I still think he’ll break my record,” Nicklaus said at the Honda Classic in early March. “Tiger’s talent, at 37 … it’s not that old. I won four after that. They were spread out. It wasn’t that difficult. I don’t think for Tiger to get four or five more – or six or seven – is that big a stretch.”

A brand-new Nike ad proclaimed Woods’s new status Monday. (via Nike)

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