Commentary

Tiger Woods' victory a mental major

Updated: December 8, 2011, 10:04 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Good thing that was a nonofficial event Tiger Woods won a few days ago or else he might have needed reconstructive surgery on his arm.

Did you see that fist pump when he birdied No. 18 at the Chevron World Challenge? It would have sent Manny Pacquiao whimpering back to his corner.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesTiger Woods still has 71 PGA Tour victories -- Sunday's win doesn't count as official -- but don't tell the former world No. 1 that.

It wasn't just a signature Woods gesture, it was 749 days of being told, in no particular order, that you're out of the running for Husband of the Year, that your Achilles and knee ligaments are calling in sick again, that your latest swing changes make less sense than the BCS, that maybe it's time to 86 the Sunday red shirts, that you don't belong on the Presidents Cup team, that -- and this is the one that must have caused him to do a Crock-Pot slow burn -- you'll NEVER WIN AGAIN.

And until that birdie putt dropped on the 18th green of Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., last Sunday, Woods was seemingly 0-for-ever. That 749-day winless streak is longer than the two-year term of U.S. Congressman Elton Gallegly, whose 24th District includes Thousand Oaks.

It was a fist pump of exultation, of relief, of validation. Woods didn't just end a golf drought; he ended some of the questions and doubts that had built up around him and his game like calluses.

Just because Woods won a tournament doesn't mean he's back. But at least it means he's not gone anymore.

Those assorted versions of Woods in recent years were often painful to watch, the equivalent of seeing a shirtless Hunter Mahan, his beer pooch on full display, wearing a hair shirt, leopard-print pants and scarf in the Golf Boys video. Woods' swing still isn't 100 percent good to go, but it's close. Or closer.

Woods finished 6 strokes ahead of Mahan at the Chevron and 1 stroke ahead of second-place finisher Zach Johnson. But it's not like he won a major. In many ways, it doesn't even qualify as a minor. Chevron World Challenge? There were only 18 players in the field.

The PGA Tour doesn't recognize it as an official event. It doesn't add to Woods' career tour win total. And technically speaking, it doesn't break his winless streak, which stretches all the way back to Nov. 15, 2009, when he left the Australian Masters with a first-place finish.

Of course, don't tell that to Woods. They handed him a trophy and check. Sounds like a win to me. And the Official World Golf Rankings recognized it. Woods zoomed from No. 52 to No. 21. He went from being UCLA to Nebraska with one tournament-winning birdie putt.

Woods has changed marital status, coaches, caddies, swings, shoes, home addresses, sponsors (does that new name on the bag mean what we think it means?) and world rankings. For someone who can be so exasperatingly stubborn, Woods also can be remarkably adaptable.

I thought he'd win again. I think he'll win a major, too, and resume his car chase of Jack Nicklaus' career majors record of 18. When? Got me. Why? Because he works his rear off, no longer walks with a limp and never, ever forgets when someone says he can't do something.

It would be nice if Woods plays more tournaments in 2012. He's already said he's going to play at least one different event next season. And while he's at it, maybe quit being so secretive about his schedule? It's OK to commit to a tournament before pushing the Friday deadline.

The last thing we need is for New Tiger to win and then revert to the Old Tiger personality. You want to go into Badass Mode on the course? Works for me. But the slightly more engaging, occasionally more open Woods is a welcome change. He's never going to become Rocco Mediate -- Man of a Thousand One-Liners -- but Woods does possess an actual sense of humor.

Woods' rebuilt swing no longer needs a maintenance check after every round. His putting, as evidenced by those back-to-back birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 at Sherwood, shows that the nerves are regenerating. And he didn't exactly stink it up at the Australian Open or the Presidents Cup, did he?

It wasn't an official win at the Chevron, but it was an official fist pump. The victory smile was back. The trophy presentation was back.

That's all that matters right now. Baby steps have become full strides. At last, Woods is walking from one year into the next with a long-lost friend.

Confidence.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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