Lateral Hazard: Tiger Woods looking more and more like he's returning to form

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports

View gallery

.

Tiger Woods celebrates after winning the Farmers Insurance Open. (USA Today Sports)

All right, Tiger. We see you.

There you are, going deep in your first PGA Tour at-bat of the season. Enjoy the trot.

When I say "we" see you, I mean guys like me – longtime golf observers who have wondered if you would ever be able to reclaim "the whole package," as you so calmly called it in your Sunday night news conference. We know you won three times last year, but there were nagging questions: distance control from 140 yards and in, and a balky putter primary among them. Also, we wondered if the landscape had changed around you, that youngsters like Rory McIlroy had no fear of you.

After you laid waste to a good field at Torrey Pines (yes, I'm ignoring the sloppy finish), some of those questions are under re-examination. Your distance control with your short irons looked dramatically better, and you pounded greens in regulation in San Diego like the PGA Tour pounded anti-Twitter screeds. And your putter looked calmly effective, which should alarm the rest of the Tour.

Sure, the driver got erratic in the final round, but you dialed up magic when you needed it, like that ridiculous par save from the 11th hole bunker on Monday, or the par from the trees on the ninth hole Monday, or the "Bent Elbow Special" on the fourth hole Sunday. Your drive nestled behind a tree, you used that imagination of yours to make a chicken wing of a swing and sort of "cut-block" a golf shot to the neck of the green. From there, you chipped in for birdie, and as hang gliders applauded you from above the green, and the Pacific Ocean glistened in the late afternoon sun, and you extended a clenched fist, the only thing missing was the "Theme from Shaft" playing as you walked to retrieve your ball. That Tiger is a bad mother …

OK, so the doubters will say until you win a major, you're not officially back. And I get that. And the doubters will say your four wins in the last 10 months were all at places where you are in a supreme comfort zone of multiple wins – Torrey (eight!), Bay Hill, Muirfield Village and your own tournament at Congressional; that maybe your Tiger-ness, at age 37, won't translate to Merion's U.S. Open or Muirfield's British Open. (By the way, the "Tiger-only-wins-at-certain-courses" theorists should include Augusta National in that list, even though it's been since 2005. It'll happen again amid the cathedral of pines.)

[Also: Tiger Woods records 75th career victory]

View gallery

.

Woods is optimistic his short game will improve this year. (AP)

That other bit of doubt – that the Rory-influenced landscape around you has changed – is also up for reconsideration. Until we see McIlroy dominate with his new Nike golf clubs and new Nike swoosh and new Nike pressure, maybe it's fair to wonder if McIlroy will have lost some of his newfound edge. As Tiger was obliterating the field at Torrey, I kept having a mental image of Rory sitting alone in a hotel room somewhere, staring at his Nike golf bag and clubs. If it were a painting, we could call it "Creeping Doubt, Still Life."

The part that sold many of us, Tiger, was your reasoned assertion Sunday night that your short game will be better this year because you've had more time to work on it, now that your Sean Foley-coached swing is more grooved. Your argument that most of 2010/2011 was spent learning the new swing, at the expense of short game practice, makes sense. And now that the swing is more natural, you can return to honing that dagger-sharp short game, the one that cuts out opposing hearts and removes them, still beating and dripping with blood of the victim. It's a telltale thing.

For those of us who've doubted your killer instinct since the Escalade hit the tree on Thanksgiving night in 2009, you're coming for us. I can see it. You do those press room sessions where you say things like, "Well, I've had a pretty nice career," or "Well, I'm proud of some of the things I've done," using barely-restrained understatement instead of grabbing us by the lapel and shouting: "WHAT PART OF SEVENTY-FIVE TOUR WINS AND FOURTEEN MAJORS AT AGE 37 DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND, DOOFUS?"

And now look – after a winless 2010 and 2011, now it's four wins in your last 16 PGA Tour starts. That's a trend. Batting .250 may get you only a utility man's gig in Major League Baseball. In golf, it's Mike Trout-plus-Miguel Cabrera type stuff. It's a home run, leaving a tracer arc across the golf sky. We get it. It's on.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

67-70-64-69 – 18-under 270, Chris Wood, winner, European Tour Qatar Masters, Doha Golf Course, Doha, Qatar.

Do any of you American golf fans remember an awkward-looking cat, goes about 6-foot-5, Englishman, red hair, playing well at some British Opens? Yeah, sure you do. Chris Wood is his name. As an amateur, he took fifth at the 2008 Birkdale British Open won by Padraig Harrington. The next year, he took third at the famous Stewart Cink-Tom Watson British Open at Turnberry.

And all the while, you thought the same thing I did: Man, you don't see that dude's look very often on a golf course. What is he, about 6-foot-5 with red hair?

Well, look who's only 25 years old and pulling off a thrilling win at the Qatar Masters. Welcome to the winner's circle, Chris Wood.

Sergio Garcia played great in Qatar, and finished at 17-under, tied with South Africa's George Coetzee. They were thinking playoff, as they watched 54-hole leader Wood, still without a European Tour official win, fritter his three-shot overnight lead into a two-shot deficit after nine holes.

Wood came to the 18th one shot back of Sergio and Coetzee, looking at a major choke job. Already the owner of three runner-up finishes and 19 top 10s, and a couple of blown leads, Wood needed something good, lest he continue the moniker of "Really Tall Dude Who Can't Seem to Win."

How about these apples: On the closing par-5 Wood hit driver, 6-iron from 202 yards, and drained his 10-foot eagle putt. For the win! He called it "an enormous weight" lifted from his shoulders.

Nice work, Wood. Between Qatar and Torrey Pines, it was a heck of a weekend for players whose last names are lumber-related.

The win should vault Wood into the top 64 of the Official World Golf Ranking, meaning he has a shot at playing in the World Match Play in Arizona for the top 64 players. If he does play, you'll notice him. He's the spindly 6-foot-5 cat with the red hair. Don't see many like him.

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

"That's a three, net one." – David Feherty, CBS, after Tiger's chip-in bird on the fourth hole on Sunday.

And with that, we welcome back the CBS crew for 2013. Everybody played his role to the tee: Feherty's savage wit in mid-season form, Gary McCord's enthusiasm leading to a quick-breathed panting as Tiger's chip approached the hole, Jim Nantz stoking the over-80 heavily-Caucasian crowd with a solemn-voiced eulogy for the late singer Andy Williams as "Moon River" plays in the background, and Sir Nick Faldo just, you know … being Sir Nick Faldo. That's Sir, by the way. Still.

[Also: U.S. Open returns to site of Phil Mickelson's demise]

Broadcast Moment of the Week, by the way, is in danger of being co-opted by The Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee on a weekly basis. He continually drops knowledge and perspective in round recaps, and this week said after Sunday's round that Tiger Woods would win because he is the only player in the world "for whom you can eliminate the concept of pressure." Strong take. Chamblee is threatening to become the next Johnny Miller. That means the "freshly honest and insightful" Johnny Miller, not the "every player hates him because he says 'choke' " Johnny Miller.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

It's sort of hard to pinpoint a golf shot a player would want back when the winner moonwalks home by a million shots. I mean, what – give Nick Watney a do-over on his 10th hole final round bogey so he can stay within five shots of the runaway locomotive that was Tiger?

View gallery

.

Phil Mickelson hasn't played that great during his first two events of the season. (Getty Images)

Instead, let's use the obvious mulligan of the week, giving Phil Mickelson an "I take that back" on his "My taxes are too high" riff. Sure, he's free to state it and feel it and vote it, but in a position of public profile, when many less fortunate fans who live paycheck-to-paycheck seek entertainment from Lefty, they probably don't want or need to hear that Phil's tax rate troubles him.

But let's use the moment to ponder Mickelson, who just played sorta "blah" golf in his first two starts, at PGA West and now Torrey Pines, where he tied for 51st. Remember, this is a player who is so dominant on the West Coast Swing, he may one day have the West Coast Swing named after him. Can't you hear a gray-haired Jim Nantz say, "Hello, friends, and Welcome the Phil Mickelson West Coast Swing" or better yet, "Hello, friends, and welcome to the West Coast Swing, presented by Phil Mickelson."

Lefty almost always bags a win on the West Coast, and if he doesn't, he's littering his résumé with top-5s and top-10s in the Pacific time zone. Now, if things don't go his way in Phoenix, he will arrive at Pebble Beach marking the one-year anniversary since his last win. He also was a non-factor in the final three majors of 2012. Lefty has now gone 20 starts since his last win, and is 42 years old. As the kids would tweet: Just sayin'.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Grab your Breath-a-lyzers, golf fan. It's Phoenix Open time. In its traditional pre-Super Bowl slot, expect plenty of eyeballs on Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Padraig Harrington and new PGA Tour member Martin Kaymer amid the fraternity house roars of the 16th hole. I'd expect – and hope – the 16th hole crew has learned some German for clever foreign language chants dedicated to Kaymer.

As an avowed 49ers fan, though, my preference will be to the first golfer who "Kaepernicks" on the 16th green after making bird.

Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
Morning Rush: Harbaugh brothers not No. 1 sporting siblings
Rebuild or regroup: Celtics at crossroads with Rajon Rondo injury
Breakfast Buffet: The game-winning college basketball shot that wasn't

View Comments
  • Colabello' 4 RBIs power Twins past Rays 6-4 in 12

    Colabello' 4 RBIs power Twins past Rays 6-4 in 12

    ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- - Given an opportunity by the Twins, Chris Colabello is showing his gratitude by driving in runs at a record-setting pace. Colabello's four RBIs carried Minnesota to a 12-inning, 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on … More »

    AP - Sports - 9 minutes ago
  • Sharapova to face Radwanska in quarters

    Sharapova to face Radwanska in quarters

    STUTTGART, Germany (AP) -- Defending champion Maria Sharapova defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday to set up a Porsche Grand Prix quarterfinal clash with top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska. … More »

    AP - Sports - 19 minutes ago
  • Marchand gets ball and then shoe stuck

    Marchand gets ball and then shoe stuck

    NHL Live goes to Overtime to watch Bruins forward Brad Marchand try to get his soccer ball and then his shoe unstuck from the rafters. … More »

    NHL Highlights - 24 minutes ago
  • PG Conley wins NBA's sportsmanship award

    PG Conley wins NBA's sportsmanship award

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley has won the NBA's Joe Dumars Trophy for sportsmanship. … More »

    AP - Sports - 26 minutes ago
  • Nishikori reaches quarters in Barcelona

    Nishikori reaches quarters in Barcelona

    BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Fourth-seeded Kei Nishikori reached the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open by beating Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-0, 6-4 Thursday. … More »

    AP - Sports - 27 minutes ago
  • NFL draft: Q&A with Colorado State C Weston Richburg

    NFL draft: Q&A with Colorado State C Weston Richburg

    After 50 college starts, Colorado State C Weston Richburg could be drafted as early as the second round in May. He took some time to talk to Shutdown Corner about growing up on a farm, breaking his snapping hand during a game, listening to metal and … More »

    Shutdown Corner - 29 minutes ago
  • Heat 12-2 in playoffs when Bosh has 20

    Heat 12-2 in playoffs when Bosh has 20

    In Miami, it's called the Big Three for a reason. LeBron James was stellar for the Heat in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against Charlotte, and Dwyane Wade helped save the game with a steal to deny the Bobcats a chance at … More »

    AP - Sports - 34 minutes ago
  • Court tosses ex-Oklahoma State player's conviction

    Court tosses ex-Oklahoma State player's conviction

    Oklahoma's criminal appeals court has overturned the conviction of a former Oklahoma State basketball player accused of sexually assaulting two women at an off-campus party in 2010. The Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday reversed the conviction … More »

    AP - Sports - 35 minutes ago
  • Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Repeat offenders, Lady Byng and overtime thrillers

    Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Repeat offenders, Lady Byng and overtime thrillers

    [Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever … More »

    Puck Daddy - 1 hour 9 minutes ago
  • F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges, says he was blackmailed as trial opens

    F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges, says he was blackmailed as trial opens

    MUNICH - Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone rejected accusations of bribery as he went on trial Thursday in a case that could threaten his grip on the sport, telling a Munich court that he was blackmailed by a German banker who received a disputed … More »

    The Canadian Press - 1 hour 10 minutes ago
  • F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges

    F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges

    Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone rejected accusations of bribery as he went on trial Thursday in a case that could threaten his grip on the sport, telling a Munich court that he was blackmailed by a German banker who received a disputed $44 … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 11 minutes ago
  • Pineda says he'll learn from ejection for pine tar

    Pineda says he'll learn from ejection for pine tar

    The pine tar glistened on Michael Pineda's neck, improving his grip and inviting trouble. The Yankees' right-hander spoke quietly after being ejected in the second inning of the Red Sox' 5-1 win over New York on Wednesday night. And less than two … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 29 minutes ago
  • Phelps launches comeback in 100m fly

    Phelps launches comeback in 100m fly

    Returning to swimming after a 20-month retirement, Michael Phelps is easing back into the sport he once dominated by racing one of his best events. The 18-time Olympic gold medalist will swim the 100-meter butterfly at the Arena Grand Prix on … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 30 minutes ago
  • Quiros, Dyson share lead at China Open

    Quiros, Dyson share lead at China Open

    Alvaro Quiros and Simon Dyson each shot a 5-under 67 to share the lead after the first round of the China Open on Thursday. The pair were a stroke ahead of a group of six golfers that included defending champion Brett Rumford of Australia and … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 35 minutes ago
  • Everest climbing season in disarray after deaths

    Nepal's attempts to salvage the Mount Everest climbing season fell flat Thursday as major expedition companies canceled their climbs and many Sherpas quit the mountain after an avalanche killed 16 of their fellow guides last week. While the season … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 46 minutes ago
  • Comcast's Fandango ticket service buys MovieClips

    (Reuters) - Fandango, a movie ticketing service owned by cable company Comcast Corp, is buying MovieClips from Zefr Inc to boost its film-related content. MovieClips, launched in 2009, licenses movie scenes from various studios, puts them up on … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 8 minutes ago
  • No rest for weary Atletico as Valencia trip looms

    No rest for weary Atletico as Valencia trip looms

    By Tim Hanlon BARCELONA, April 24 (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid must put their Champions League ambitions to one side when they look to maintain their surprise La Liga title surge in a tough trip to Valencia on Sunday. They are on the verge of … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 32 minutes ago
  • Dyson enjoys happy return to China, shares lead with Quiros

    (Reuters) - Englishman Simon Dyson, who was handed a suspended two-month ban for cheating in December, fired a five-under-par 67 to grab a share of the first round lead at the European Tour's China Open on Thursday. The Englishman fired six birdies … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 41 minutes ago
  • Formula One boss denies bribery at German trial

    Formula One boss denies bribery at German trial

    By Keith Weir MUNICH Germany (Reuters) - Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone denied bribery allegations on Thursday when he went on trial in Germany in a case that threatens to break the Briton's decades-long dominance of the motor sport. … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 41 minutes ago
  • Ajax extend ban on fans travelling to Feyenoord games

    REUTERS - Ajax Amsterdam have extended the ban on their fans attending away league games against arch-rivals Feyenoord in Rotterdam following the riotous behaviour of supporters in Sunday's Dutch Cup final. It ends hopes that a five-year suspension … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 42 minutes ago
  • Guan, 15, getting used to spotlight

    One year after his stunning debut at the Masters, Chinese 15-year-old golfer Guan Tianlang is growing accustomed to being in the spotlight. The teenager's star has risen quickly in China since his breakthrough at Augusta National, where at the age … More »

    AP - Sports - 2 hours 45 minutes ago
  • Bolton Wanderers to rename the Reebok stadium

    (Reuters) - Bolton Wanderers will change the name of their Reebok stadium to the Macron from July as part of a new deal between the Championship club and an Italian sportswear manufacturer. It will be the first change of name for the second tier … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 52 minutes ago
  • Protesters rally against FIFA president Blatter

    A handful of protesters holding banners and placards demonstrated peacefully Thursday at an event with FIFA president Sepp Blatter to highlight the plight of migrant workers building stadiums in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Blatter was a guest at … More »

    AP - Sports - 2 hours 53 minutes ago
  • Golf-Dyson enjoys happy return to China, shares lead with Quiros

    Englishman Simon Dyson, who was handed a suspended two-month ban for cheating in December, fired a five-under-par 67 to grab a share of the first round lead at the European Tour's China Open on Thursday. The Englishman fired six birdies and a lone … More »

    Reuters - 3 hours ago
  • Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki

    Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki

    Dirk Nowitzki addresses the media following the Game 2 win over the Spurs. … More »

    NBA.com - 3 hours ago
  • Hanyu determined to build on success of Sochi

    Hanyu determined to build on success of Sochi

    Yuzuru Hanyu has barely had time to dwell on the Olympic and world titles he won in the first quarter of 2014, yet he's already thinking about how to improve for next season. Hanyu became the first Japanese man to claim Olympic gold in figure … More »

    AP - Sports - 3 hours ago
  • More teams withdraw, Nepal's Everest season in jeopardy

    By Gopal Sharma KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Several foreign climbing expeditions have called off attempts to scale Everest following an avalanche that killed at least 13 local guides, meaning Nepal faces an entire season without a single ascent of the … More »

    Reuters - 3 hours ago
  • No clubs facing FFP European expulsion - Platini

    No clubs facing FFP European expulsion - Platini

    No clubs can expect to be expelled from European competition next season for breaking financial fair play rules, UEFA president Michel Platini said in an interview on Thursday. UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) policy, designed to stop clubs … More »

    Reuters - 3 hours ago
  • No clubs facing European expulsion - Platini

    No clubs facing European expulsion - Platini

    No clubs will be kicked out of European competition next season for breaking financial fair play rules, UEFA president Michel Platini said in an interview on Thursday. UEFA's financial fair play (FFP) policy, designed to stop clubs spending more … More »

    Reuters - 4 hours ago
  • Fast-breaking Real home in on elusive 10th European crown

    Fast-breaking Real home in on elusive 10th European crown

    By Tim Hanlon BARCELONA (Reuters) - Real Madrid took a step closer to an elusive 10th European Cup with a 1-0 home win over Bayern Munich on Wednesday and the Spanish side will hope to finish off the job in Germany having shown how effective they … More »

    Reuters - 4 hours ago
  • Schalke aiming to seal Champions League spot

    By Karolos Grohmann REUTERS - Schalke 04's season could have a happy ending at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday when they hope to claim a Champions League spot after a rollercoaster campaign punctuated by injury problems. Schalke, who … More »

    Reuters - 5 hours ago
  • Sturridge hopeful of returning against Chelsea

    Sturridge hopeful of returning against Chelsea

    REUTERS - Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is optimistic of returning from injury for the key clash against former team mates and title rivals Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday in a boost for the Premier League leaders. "Hopefully this weekend I'll be … More »

    Reuters - 5 hours ago
  • Confident Bayern promise home improvements against Real

    Confident Bayern promise home improvements against Real

    Holders Bayern Munich promised a sharp improvement when they host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final after failing to convert the lion's share of possession into goals in a 1-0 defeat in Spain on Wednesday. Bayern … More »

    Reuters - 5 hours ago
  • Be optimistic about Brazil, says Blatter

    Be optimistic about Brazil, says Blatter

    By Stefanie McIntyre HONG KONG (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter has encouraged fans to be optimistic that the World Cup in Brazil will be a success, amid growing concerns over security and public unrest as workers scramble to finish stadiums … More »

    Reuters - 6 hours ago
  • Announcer relishes role as voice of Kentucky Derby

    Announcer relishes role as voice of Kentucky Derby

    From his perch with a panoramic view of the world's most famous racetrack, the new voice of Churchill Downs will sit out one of the most anticipated moments of the tradition-soaked Kentucky Derby. Larry Collmus will try to tune out ''My Old … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 hours ago
  • Confident Bayern promise home improvements against Real Madrid

    Confident Bayern promise home improvements against Real Madrid

    By Karolos Grohmann REUTERS - Holders Bayern Munich promised a sharp improvement when they host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final after failing to convert the lion's share of possession into goals in a 1-0 defeat in … More »

    Reuters - 6 hours ago
  • Wednesday's Sports In Brief

    BOSTON (AP) -- Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected for using pine tar less than two weeks after appearing to get away with using a foreign substance in another game against Boston, and the Red Sox beat New York 5-1 on Wednesday night. … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 hours ago
  • Flyers lack punch at home on power play

    Flyers lack punch at home on power play

    Back on their home ice, the Philadelphia Flyers fizzled on the power play. The Flyers ranked 25th in the NHL in power-play efficiency at home during the regular season, scoring on 15.1 percent of their chances. In Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the New … More »

    AP - Sports - 7 hours ago
  • Lions welcome new faces at minicamp

    Lions welcome new faces at minicamp

    Their new coach has been to Super Bowls and the Detroit Lions how have two new players who have championship rings. Free-agent acquisitions Golden Tate and James Ihedigbo - who played on the winning side of the last two Super Bowls - finished their … More »

    AP - Sports - 7 hours ago
  • Iowa's offense looking to match defense

    Iowa's offense looking to match defense

    Iowa's defense was back among the nation's elite last season. The Hawkeyes' offense failed to follow suit. Getting both units to play at an equally high level will likely be crucial to Iowa's hopes of competing for a Big Ten West title. The … More »

    AP - Sports - 7 hours ago