Tiger Woods, left, shares a laugh with golf legend Arnold Palmer during the trophy presentation after he won his eighth Arnold Palmer Invitational title on Monday in Orlando, Fla. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press)
Hands up, the three of you, who thought the events that took place in Orlando on Monday were even possible back in January. As impossible as Woods's ascent back to his formerly lofty perch would have seemed just a few months ago, he is now the man to beat heading into the Masters in two weeks.
Just as importantly, chief rival and Nike stablemate Rory McIlroy may now have to deal with the type of mental bugaboos that Woods finally expunged when the final putt dropped at Bay Hill.
McIlroy has played poorly in 2013, with just a back-door T8 at the most recent WGC event that Woods won at Doral earlier this month.
In and of itself, McIlroy's indifferent form is not a huge story because he is traditionally a slow starter. But with Woods now back at No. 1 and McIlroy doing nothing to quell questions about his commitment to getting better and his adjustment to Nike gear, if nothing else, the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland has surrendered the high ground in the psychological battle that now moves to a new level ahead of Augusta.
For his part, and just as Woods was clinching the victory on Monday when his playing partner and closest pursuer Ricky Fowler twice found water on 16, McIlroy was tweeting about his pending trip to Haiti to continue the humanitarian work on the island nation.
No one will question McIlroy's charity work, but his tendency to spend significant time away from the course with his tennis ace girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki continues to raise eyebrows. To wit, McIlroy's decision to not play at Bay Hill, while jetting cross-country to California to be with Wozniacki and then back again where the couple was filmed court-side at the Miami Heat-Orlando Magic game on Sunday, was probably ill-advised.
Plenty of time to catch Jack
Whatever is going on with McIlroy, he needs to start playing better because Woods has now completed what is probably the best comeback story golf has seen in the modern era. He's now won three times in 2013 to go along with the three PGA Tour victories he had in 2012.
No matter what you may think of Woods since the veneer was stripped away in late 2009, it's difficult to argue with the comeback he completed on Monday.
According to the world ranking, Woods fell into the 50s as he struggled with the fallout from personal scandal. The divorce that resulted was only part of the problem. Lingering health issues and the rise of a group of young players, led by McIlroy, combined to keep him well off his best.
It's far too early to assess whether Woods can bring both his resurgent talent and that intimidation factor back that melted so many of his rivals before. McIlroy, Justin Rose, who finished second on Monday and moving him to third in the world, plus others such as Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson and a few others, are here to stay.
In fact, it could be argued that the major championships won in recent years by McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Simpson and Keegan Bradley were helped not just by Woods shrinking to a shadow of his previous best, but also by watching him falter against Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship. That shocking upset came a few months before he struck that tree at the end of his driveway.
That collision set off a chain of events that were previously unimaginable. Once they played out, it seemed that Woods would have more injury layoffs than PGA Tour victories.
As far as the world ranking goes, the long climb back is now complete, with Woods back at No. 1, but it will continue with him trying to win his 15th major championship.
That leg of that journey begins April 11th at the Masters.
Peter RobinsonPeter Robinson has covered the Canadian golf scene for more than a decade, most recently as a regular golf columnist for CBC Sports and as a contributing editor for SCOREGolf. He is also the managing editor of the CHL’s popular Prospects Hockey magazine. Peter can be reached on Twitter @PRGolfWriter.