THOUSAND OAKS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Tiger Woods celebrates after his birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club on December 4, 2011 in Thousand Oaks, California. Woods finished at 10 under par to beat Zach Johnson by one stroke. (Photo by Robert Meggers/Getty Images) (Robert Meggers/GETTY IMAGES)

Tiger Woods waited a long time for his first win since the Thanksgiving 2009 car crash that precipitated the golfer’s fall from grace at the top of the golf world. On Sunday, Woods broke his winless streak at the Chevron World Challenge with a clutch birdie on the 18th hole. As Cindy Boren reported:

You remember Tiger Woods on Sundays? Red shirt, jackwagons in the gallery yelling “get in the hole” with every swing, the grin, the victorious fist pump?

That guy and that scene — missing since the 2009 Australian Masters — were back Sunday, with Woods beating Zach Johnson by one stroke in the Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He birdied the final two holes and finished at 10-under 278. Oh, sure, the tournament is a far cry from majors that Woods used to regularly tuck away, but at this point for him a win is a win is a win. The Chevron is not a PGA Tour event; it is an 18-player invitational that benefits his foundation.

Woods, who has dealt with personal problems, a divorce, injuries, a revamped golf game and a fired caddie since a tumultuous 2009 Thanksgiving auto accident just a couple of weeks after that Australian win, wasn’t sure what to call what he was feeling; he was asked whether it was “joy, satisfaction or relief.”

“It feels awesome, whatever it is,” Woods said in an NBC interview.

With the win, his first in 749 days, Woods moves from 52nd in the world rankings to 21st — still a far cry from the No. 1 spot he used to own, but he’ll take it. With a fist pump.

“They all feel good, you know. They’re not easy,” Woods said. “People don’t realize how hard it is to win golf tournaments. I’ve gone on streaks where I’ve won golf tournaments in a row, but still, each one, I don’t think I’ve taken it for granted.

Even though there are a full six weeks between Tiger’s win and the next tournament he will play in, the win seemed to many a deserved reward for an excellent month of golf he has played to end the year. As AP explained:

A win at the Chevron World Challenge doesn’t provide much in the way of bragging rights. It’s not an official PGA Tour event, the field is limited to 18 players and it wraps up in the middle of an NFL Sunday, when most golf fans are paying closer attention to first downs than fairways hit. But after more than two years and 26 tournaments without a win of any kind, Woods isn’t about to hand this one back.

“It feels great,” he said afterward. “It’s kind of hard for me to elaborate beyond that.”

Here’s why: Woods won’t play tournament golf again until the end of January, when any momentum from the birdie-birdie finish he dropped on Zach Johnson to seal the deal will be little more than a fading memory. Ditto for the sometimes-sparkling golf Woods has played for nearly a month now, including nine of 11 rounds in the 60s and a handful of shots that no other golfer in the world could have pulled off.

But if there’s a takeaway from any of that, it’s this: For the first time in a long time, there was a feeling of inevitability about Woods’ final putt on the 18th green at Sherwood Country Club. It was only 6 feet, but it was also straight downhill, the way our expectations for Woods have been trending for some time now. Yet the second after the ball disappeared into the cup, an NBC camera cut to Johnson flashing his caddie a grin that suggested, “I can’t do anything about that” before walking across the green to shake hands.

Tiger’s good run of form has the golf world asking if the Woods comeback many in the sport would love to see is finally in the offing. As Cindy Boren reported:

Tiger Woods finally won a tournament (even if it was only his 18-player invitational) after 749 days, leaving two very important issues: Is he really back and ... this “mashed potatoes!” thing is not going away.

First, let’s address the food factor.

In early October, a fan chucked a hot dog at him during the Open, which was bad enough. On Sunday, while most fans went with the traditional “get in the hole” cry of idiocy, one guy went with “mashed potatoes!” as Woods teed off on 18. Sadly, this is a trend that just is not going to go away and if Woods is, indeed, back, it’s going to get old pretty quickly. It already has happened a number of times, with quite the video library building (here, here, and here with a H/T to Mentality and Deadspin).

Answers for the larger question of whether Woods is back and can build on the win won’t become clearer until he plays again — and he isn’t scheduled to do that until the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in late January.

“Last year I played with him here the first round and thought, ‘Wow, this guy is back,’ ” Steve Stricker said. “But you could tell this time around he's even got more confidence and more game and he feels confidence in the direction he is headed in.”

And what does Woods think?

“In order for me to play the way I know I can play, I had to get fully fit. I had to get healthy to where I was strong and explosive again so I could practise. It basically starts with that. I was finally able to practice, then my practice sessions started building and building and building. I felt very good about my game. I got better each and every tournament. I feel pretty good going into next year.”

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