Tiger triumphant. (Getty Images)Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.
Let's get this out of the way first: Despite winning his second event of the year, Tiger Woods is not "back." Tiger Woods will never be back to the levels of popularity and skill he reached in the early 2000s. That time is gone, a memory, no closer now than grainy YouTube videos.
But the Tiger Woods of 2012 is still, by any objective measure, one of the very best golfers in the world. Indeed, were it not for the fact that he was once the most dominant athlete on the planet, we'd be talking of him in glowing, can-you-believe-this terms. He's now won as many events as any golfer on the PGA Tour this year (two), he ranks near the top in most major statistics and he closed out the Memorial on Sunday afternoon with one of the most masterful closing stretches of the season. Down two strokes with four holes to play, he birdied three of the final four, including a legitimate for-the-ages chip-in on 16 that put him into a tie for the lead.
Woods, who finished 9-under for a two-shot victory, always plays well in front of golf's legends, and now he has a trophy from Jack Nicklaus' tournament to match the one he won at Arnold Palmer's earlier this spring. With his win, Woods now has 73 PGA Tour wins, matching Nicklaus' record and second only to Sam Snead's 82. Indeed, Nicklaus called Woods' chip on 16 the most incredible golf shot he'd ever seen, which might be overselling it a bit, but since it's Jack, are you going to challenge him?
This was a vintage performance from Woods, but let's not forget that his three greatest challengers, Spencer Levin, Rickie Fowler and Rory Sabbatini, all started leaking oil down the stretch. Woods deserved the win, but the troubles of his playing partner and the pairing behind him made it that much easier.
Naturally, all the talk over the next few days will be about whether or not Woods has finally recovered from a stretch of woes that dates back to November 2009. Until he wins a major — heck, until he can go more than a few weeks without missing a cut — he's not recovered, not by any comparative definition. His greatest foe won't ever be anyone he faces on the course; it'll always be the standard he himself set when he was picking up majors like they were Easter eggs.
But for now, he's winning again, he's playing as well as anyone on the planet, he's added another shot to his all-time-best pantheon, and for now, that's more than enough. The Tiger Woods of 2000 isn't here, but the Tiger Woods of 2012 is doing just fine.
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