This is it for Tiger Woods, at least until the 2012 Masters kicks off on April 5th. On Sunday at Bay Hill, Woods will tee-off in the final group of the day, leading the Arnold Palmer Invitational by a stroke. Once again he finds himself in contention on Sunday, but unlike the Tiger Woods of old, nothing is assured.
It's been two years since Woods has won an official tournament -- the Chevron World Challenge last win was an unofficial, invite-only event. He's had his chances -- though they've been few and far between -- but has yet to figure out a way to close the deal. And in his final tune-up before the Masters, Woods has a shot to make a statement.
Throughout the week, Woods has been solid, showing no ill effects from a minor Achilles injurysuffered at the WGC-Cadillac Invitational. Friday's 65 vaulted Woods into a share of the lead, and a third-round 71 put him alone in first place as Charlie Wi, his playing partner in the final group, faltered. Only a fainting child kept Woods from taking a three-shot lead, perhaps more, into the final round.
The mystique and aura surrounding Tiger Woods playing on Sunday with a lead is long gone, along with the mental edge that always seemed to cause those around him to wilt in the critical stages of a tournament. But a win at Bay Hill would give Woods a significant boost heading into the Masters while building even more hype for the year's first major. After all, Woods has never won the Masters without winning an event in the run-up.
A win on Sunday won't mean Tiger's back -- win a major, then we can consider the possibility -- while a loss won't be the end of the world. But Tiger showing signs of life and returning to relevancy in a performance sense is good for golf, and a win on Sunday would make The Masters even more must-see than it already was.