DORAL, Fla. – The old-school South Florida vibe of Doris and Al Kaskel’s resort would have been perfect if a crooner serenaded Tiger Woods’ victory march up the Blue Monster.
Sinatra and the Bing could have made just a minor tweak to the lyrics to fit the moment.
“I’ll be beating you in all the old familiar places.”
Coasting to an uncontested four-shot victory for his eighth career win at Torrey Pines. Check.
Cruising by two to a 17th career WGC title and fourth victory at Doral. Check.
Next up, Bay Hill where Arnold Palmer has posed seven times previously with Tiger and the trophy.
On deck after that, the Masters Tournament where he’s won four times.
Woods seems to be drafting a perfect preliminary script to end a seven-year drought at Augusta National – or at least a four-year major-less streak. Seven times in his career Woods has won multiple tour events before the Masters and in six of those seasons he’s gone on to win a major.
Woods feels it building toward something special with five wins in his last 18 stroke-play events setting a familiar pace.
“I felt that towards the end of last year that I was heading that direction where things were becoming better,” he said. “I look at the three venues that I won last year (Bay Hill, Muirfield Village and Congressional), were all three very good golf courses. I think winning at Torrey and then winning here, my five wins have been on some pretty tough tracks.”
Doral’s Blue Monster didn’t exactly beat up the elite WGC field this week, but Woods made it look easier than anyone else. With the lowest round each of the first three days, he set himself up with a four-shot lead that nobody really expected to overcome.
“You don’t have a lot of – what’s the right word – belief that he’s going to come back to the field I guess,” said Steve Stricker, who made up three shots on the day to get as close as anyone could in the end.
Stricker has no one to blame but himself for the two-shot deficit. He was the one who stepped up to give Woods and impromptu putting lesson on the practice green on the eve of the tournament. All that did was lead Woods to have his best putting effort all season and pile up 27 birdies – one shy of his all-time tournament record.
“Who knows, he might have putted just as good without my help,” said Stricker. “He feels really good about what he’s doing on the greens. So that’s a good thing, even though he’s going to clip me by a couple shots.”
Woods gave credit where it was due.
“I would like to say I probably would have, but – there’s a but there,” he said of the value of Stricker’s lesson. “I’ve been putting at home and just still hadn’t felt right. I still was a little bit off. … He basically got me in the same position that I was at Torrey, the body position. So once he put me in there where I felt comfortable, I said, well, this is not too foreign. This is what I was a month or so ago and I started rolling it and it felt really, really good.”
Graeme McDowell played with Woods the last two rounds, as he did the final round last year at Bay Hill. And McDowell said this year’s Woods looks a lot more under control.
“He doesn’t look phenomenal, it just looks really, really good,” McDowell said. “And that probably came out wrong because what I mean is the golf courses don’t let you be phenomenal. You’ve got to be under control.
“In this wind the last couple days, his ball flight control is pretty stunning, really. The way he flights his irons around. It’s pretty cool to watch. I thought his short game and putting the last couple days was very impressive. He cleaned up everything he had to clean up pretty much. It was good stuff.”
It was familiar stuff. Woods is now in control of his fourth different swing as a professional, and he’s started to just feel the results instead of thinking about the process all the time.
“I feel like my game’s becoming more efficient, and it’s more consistent day in and day out,” he said. “That’s a big change, obviously. From where I was a few years ago to where I’m at now, it’s a big change.”
Woods is looking more and more like a guy who could win a fifth green jacket with his fourth different golf swing. That’s not particularly good news for the guys he’s beating again in all the old familiar places.
“His belief in himself again looks very similar to where he was, you know, in the early 2000s, or you can pick any year I guess when he was playing great,” said Stricker. “He just seems in a better place mentally, to me. He seems to be having fun. Seems to have a lot of confidence in himself and his game. And that’s fun to see – that he’s getting it back again”
His 76th win didn’t look much different than all the rest.
“They still feel good,” Woods said.
Perhaps after all his been through, even better.