Tiger Woods won for the third time this season Monday when he captured the Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy, his eighth time winning the event. The victory led every news organization to ask the most obvious and overstated question: Is he back?
The topic is dredged up every time Tiger makes a birdie putt or even sniffs the top of a PGA Tour leaderboard.
Tiger himself has repeatedly stated the standard he holds himself to is winning major championships. Anything less is failure.
So unless he’s being fitted for his fifth green jacket at the Masters in two weeks, any talk of him being “back” is nonsense.
If he measures himself by majors won, then we should too. And last I checked, Tiger’s most recent victory in a major came at the 2008 U.S. Open. Five long years ago.
Sure, Tiger reclaimed the No. 1 world ranking from his new best pal, Rory McIlroy, with his latest victory. He’s publicly acknowledged dating skier Lindsey Vonn. His red-hot putter is regularly burying those 8-foot par-save putts that separate him from the mortal players. All is right in Tigerland.
But we’ve seen this before.
Tiger won the Arnold Palmer Invitational before the Masters last year and wound up tied for 40th at Augusta. He captured the Memorial leading into the U.S. Open last year. Once at the Olympic Club, Tiger charged out to a share of the 36-hole lead before crumbling and finishing tied for 21st. In 2009, he won the event leading up to the year’s first three majors. But on the big stage, he ultimately came up short.
Early in his career, Tiger seemed like a lock to eclipse Jack Nicklaus and his 18 major championships.
But that was Tiger B.C. (before cheating) and now we are on to Tiger A.D. (after debauchery).
Tiger is 37 now. While golfers can compete at a high level well into their 40s, his window to rack up more majors is closing.
Does Tiger still have that aura of invincibility? Watching Rickie Fowler, who fell apart playing with Tiger on Monday on the 16th hole, would indicate it still exists. But his recent track record in majors could indicate the opposite is true.
At the end of the day, Tiger makes golf better. The TV ratings improve, the buzz ratchets up and the sport enters mainstream discussion much more often.
But when it comes down to that annoying question that just won’t go away: Is Tiger back? No.
And he won’t be until the number of majors won on his résumé creeps up from 14 to 15. Until then, let’s stop with the incessant “is he back” mantra.
Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @dylan_kruse.