His record eighth victory at Torrey Pines was all but over when Woods ripped a 5-iron from 244 yards over the corner of a bunker and onto the green at the par-5 13th hole, setting up a two-putt birdie that gave him an eight shot lead in the Farmers Insurance Open.
At least he had plenty of time to savor this victory. The final five holes felt like they took forever.
Woods twirled his club on the tee and leaned on it in the fairway as the final round dragged on. He lost rhythm and appeared to lose interest, and it showed. A bogey from the bunker on the 14th. A tee shot that caromed off a eucalyptus tree on the 15th hole that
"It got a little ugly at the end," Woods said. "I started losing patience a little bit with the slow play."
No matter. It only affected the margin, not the outcome. Woods had to settle for an even-par 72 that gave him a four-shot win over defending champion Brandt Snedeker and Josh Teater, who each had a 69.
For a tour that has been criticized for slow play, this wasn't an ideal start to the network portion of its schedule. With Woods virtually a lock to win, CBS Sports wanted the final round to resume Monday later than normal so that it could be televised in late afternoon on the East
Woods, meanwhile, had the ideal start to his tour season.
Only a week earlier, he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, in part because of a two-shot penalty assessed after his second round for taking an illegal drop. Woods had never missed the cut on the European Tour, and he had never started his season with the weekend off.
He might have been the only one who didn't panic.
Woods seized control with a 65 on the North Course at Torrey Pines, the spent the rest of the week pulling away from the field until no one could catch him.
"I don't know if anybody would have beaten him this week," said Nick Watney, who got within five shots of Woods when the tournament was still undecided until making three bogeys on his next five holes. "He's definitely on his game."
It's still too early to figure out the state of his game, especially in relation to Rory McIlroy, who also missed the cut in Abu Dhabi.
Torrey Pines is a public course that Woods treats like his private domain. He won the tournament for the seventh time, one short of the PGA Tour record for most wins in a single event. Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times. Woods won for the eighth time at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, and that's a PGA Tour record that Woods previously shared with ... himself. He also has won seven times at Firestone and Bay Hill.
"I think he wanted to send a message," said Hunter Mahan, who shares a swing coach with Woods. "I think deep down he did. You play some games to try to motivate yourself. There's been so much talk about Rory. Rory is now with Nike. That would be my guess."
And it was his 75th win on the PGA Tour, seven short of the record held by Snead. Woods has won 23 of those tournaments by at least four shots.
"I'm excited the way I played all week," Woods said. "I hit the ball well—pretty much did everything well and built myself a nice little cushion. I had some mistakes at the end, but all my good play before that allowed me to afford those mistakes."
Woods mostly had reason to be excited about his short game.
In the third round Sunday, he was furious with himself for going long on the par-3 eighth green, without much green between his ball and the hole. Woods hit a chip solidly, with just enough loft, to leave himself a tap-in par. In the conclusion of the final round Monday, he pulled his tee shot into a bad spot in the bunker on the par-3 11th. The lie was good, but he had to aim well left, meaning his legs were spread wide on the slope of the sand.
He blasted it out with his 60-degree wedge to a top shelf, and then watched it feed down a slope to the right. It lost pace at the end or it might have gone in.
It looked good for television. It was a difficult shot, but not impossible.
But Woods believes those are the shots he wasn't converting a year ago. And that's one reason his outlook was so bright on the rest of the year, even after having to cope with so much fog along the Pacific bluffs.
He played the par 5s in 12 under for the lead—that alone would have been enough to win—and attributed that to his short game.
"My short game was back to how I know it can be," Woods said. "My shots that I hit, especially out of these nasty little lies, I hit some really good ones this week. And that allowed me to save some pars, make some birdies, and move my way up the board. And basically, that's what I did."
Woods figures his swing change under Sean Foley took root at some point last year, but that he had devoted so much time to the swing that he neglected his wedges. Now that he is practicing more on his short game, he expects better results—turning a 74 into a 70, and not losing leads at the majors, like he did twice last year.
Still, the season is young.
Any measure of Woods likely will have to wait until the road to the Masters gets going during the Florida Swing. Woods headed home to Florida on Monday night and is not expected to return until the Match Play Championship in Arizona a month from now. McIlroy also isn't expected to play until then, and match play being such a fickle format, the better gauge could come in the Honda Classic and at Doral.
Woods, however, likes where he is headed.
Torrey Pines is a good omen for the rest of his year. Whenever he starts a PGA Tour season with a win at Torrey, he tends to have big years—eight wins and two majors in 2006, seven wins and a major in 2007, four wins in only six starts in 2008.
Where will this lead?
"Does it feel good? Yes. Does it give me confidence? Absolutely," Woods said. "But as far as the other stuff, as I said, I'm excited about this year. I'm excited about what I'm doing with Sean and some of the things that I've built. This is a nice way to start the year."