In many ways, the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship is professional golf's version of March Madness ... even though it takes place in February. A total of 64 players compete in four bracket regions each named for a golf legend: Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Gary Player and Ben Hogan. Underdog successes abound as higher-seeded players often fall to their lower-seeded opponents every year. However, every so often the tournament favorite holds true to billing and comes out victorious.
For Tiger Woods, this may be one of those years.
With his victory at the Farmers Insurance Open last month, Woods became the second player in history to reach 75 career PGA Tour victories (Sam Snead is holding strong). After a hellacious showing in Abu Dhabi two weeks earlier, Woods regrouped and dominated the Torrey Pines tournament field, prompting whispers of "Tiger is back."
Truth be told, the resurgence of Tiger began months before at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It would appear more proof was needed for some, unfortunately.
The state of Tiger's game at this point should be clear: he is playing as well as we have seen him play in years. Fans were
spoiled by treated to his historically-dominate 2006, 2007 and 2009 seasons, which became the standard by which the rest of his career would be measured. In a way, Tiger's greatness became his biggest opponent.
Even so, Woods has a renewed chip on his shoulder just in time for one final stretch of history. There is no doubt we are closer to the sunset of his career than his pinnacle, primed for the anticipated coronation of Rory McIlroy. Make no mistake, golf enthusiasts. Tiger isn't going away that easily.
Woods has won the Accenture Match Play Championship three times (2003, 2004, 2008). While his career match play record has been rather suspect overall -- especially considering his below-average Ryder Cup history -- Woods puts together flashes of brilliance in singles competition. It is as if some mental block is removed at opportune moments in his career, pushing him to victory in a format he struggles with so often.
Of course, there is always surprises when it comes to match play tournaments. Who can forget Tiger's early departure in the 2011 championship after falling to Thomas Bjorn in the first round?
Nothing in golf is definite. To say so would be both boastful and inappropriate. Furthermore, it would be insulting to the other competitors in the tournament.
But when Charles Howell III steps up to the first tee tomorrow, he will not be facing the Tiger Woods of 2011. He very well could be staring at a Tiger Woods who still believes he has something to prove.
Could there be anything more frightening?