At first, Tiger Woods soft-shoed around questions about the significance of becoming the first player to win three times on the PGA Tour this season.
He doesn’t usually gloat in public, not necessarily because he’s humble, but because Woods tends to favor the view that he’s supposed to win, so why act like it’s a big deal?
But, given the way he’s been mercilessly kicked since his life was imploded by scandal, in the end he couldn’t resist rubbing the noses of the naysayers in his success.
“I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again,” Woods said after his two-shot victory Sunday at the AT&T National.
“That was, I think, what, six months ago?
“Four months ago?
“Here we are.”
Here we are, indeed.
Woods now has three wins in seven starts.
Remarkably, that ties the number of times Phil Mickelson has won since Woods backed into a fire hydrant in 2009.
It also ties Rory McIlroy’s career-win total on the PGA Tour and is one more than Lee Westwood has mustered on American soil.
And it’s only two shy of Luke Donald’s career haul on the PGA Tour.
Even though Woods remains ranked No. 4 in the world — behind Donald, Westwood and McIlroy — the man he beat down the stretch at Congressional Country Club, Bo Van Pelt, wasn’t in any doubt when asked who he thought was the best player in the world.
“I’d have to say him,” he said of Woods.
“No offense to those other guys.
“I’d say he’s playing the best golf in the world right now.”
Of course, it might help Van Pelt — who’s had just one win in his career — sleep better believing that given his nightmare finish (three straight bogeys) made victory if not automatic, then easier, for Woods.
After Woods sent a low wedge over the back of the 16th green — a bad mistake — Van Pelt, who had a 6-iron in his hand coming into the par 5, could only manage to match his bogey after botching a chip and misreading his par putt.
He then allowed Woods to take the lead with a simple par on the 17th, and that was all she wrote.
The scent of victory in his nostrils, Woods played the last beautifully, a big drive followed by just a 9-iron to set up the straightforward two-putt par that allowed him to repeat the title he won here in 2009, when the tournament last was played here.
“It was just a matter of time,” Woods said of his resurgence as a champion.
“I could see the pieces coming together.
“I had basically a year away from (golf) because I was hurt. I couldn’t practice. And changing (swing) systems.
“Give me a little bit of time, and I feel like this is what I can do.”
It wasn’t lost on him, either, that he’d eclipsed Jack Nicklaus and, with win No. 74, is now behind only Sam Snead’s 82 on the PGA Tour career win list.
“I’ve had a pretty good career,” he said.
“To do it at 36, I feel like I have a lot of years ahead of me. I’ve had a number of good years in my career so far, and I feel like I’ve got a lot more ahead of me.”
But of what will those years consist?
Undoubtedly, more regular tour wins.
If Woods stays healthy, it’s absurd to think he won’t overtake Snead.
But what about the big ones?
Twice this year he’s won his final start before a major only to falter on the big stage.
He had the worst Masters of his career in April, and then faded badly on the weekend after holding a share of the midway lead at the US Open two weeks ago.
It was interesting to hear Woods’ reaction on Sunday when he was asked whether this year is starting to feel like 2009 given that in both years he started by winning the same three events, Bay Hill, Memorial and now his tournament.
“Well, I had a good year that year,” he said.
“I think I won six times that year.
“That would be nice if I could get that same total, with a couple majors in there.”
With a couple of majors thrown in there.
Coincidentally, there are two majors left to be played this year, the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in three weeks and next month’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
And what’s true for many is true for Woods, too.
The remaining domino to fall in his comeback is the one that matters the most: a major.