Wearing a yellow duck pin in his cap in honour of Australian tour pro Jarrod Lyle who was recently diagnosed with leukaemia for a second time, Woods closed with a two-under 70 for a convincing five-shot win over Graeme McDowell.
It was his first PGA Tour victory since the sex scandal at the end of 2009 that led to one of the greatest downfalls in sport.
And with the Masters only two weeks away, Woods looks more capable of resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus in the majors.
The question two weeks ago was when he could play again. Now, it’s whether he can get back to player who once ruled golf.
Bookies had their own answer. Betfair immediately slashed Woods’ odds to win the Masters from $7.20 to $5.10, leapfrogging Rory McIlroy to be favourite.
Even though he won the unofficial Chevron World Challenge last December, this was meaningful for Woods – a full tour event against a strong field, and a performance so clean that he was never seriously challenged on the back nine.
The only thing missing was the host himself.
Palmer’s blood pressure increased during the final round from new medications, and he was taken to the hospital about 15 minutes before the tournament ended as a precaution.
Woods finished at 13-under 275 for his 72nd PGA Tour win, one short of Nicklaus for second place on the career list. But that’s not the record Woods wants. He has 14 majors, four short of the Nicklaus standard, and he tries to end a four-year drought at the Masters, which starts April 5.
“I am excited, no doubt,” Woods said. “I’m looking forward to the momentum I’ve built here.”
“It is all coming together at the right time.”
It was the first time Woods had all four rounds under par since he returned from his personal crisis at the 2010 Masters.
“I am thankful for a lot of people helping me out. You all know who you are. It has been tough,” Woods said.
McDowell made a 45-foot birdie putt and a 50-foot eagle putt early in the round, though he was never closer than two shots after starting with a double bogey. He closed with a 74.
Only two weeks ago, Woods was taken off Doral in the middle of the final round with tightness in his left achilles tendon, the same injury that caused him to miss three months last year, including two majors.
It turned out to be a mild strain, and Sunday was the eighth straight day that Woods played golf – starting with a practice round last Sunday at Augusta.
His injuries have received more attention in the last year than the personal life crisis that cost him his marriage and corporate support. But in the last week, Hank Haney’s book – “The Big Miss” – was mailed out to various media outlets, another distraction for Woods.
The book is go on sale Tuesday, and while it deals mainly with Haney’s six years teaching Woods, it raises questions about Woods’ fascination with the Navy SEALs and whether that contributed to his injuries, and it portrays Woods as self-centred and rarely satisfied, a side of him that Woods has sought to keep private for so many years.
Woods goes to No.6 in the world, his first time back in the top 10 since May 22.