On Sunday, golf fans were treated to something they hadn't seen in years: Tiger Woods playing like Tiger Woods.
After nine holes of vintage Tiger golf at Augusta National, Woods was just one stroke behind the leader.
Tiger was back in the hunt.
Woods had four birdies and an amazing eagle on the front nine. On the par 5 eighth hole, Woods hit a 278-yard draw that rolled onto the green and stopped just 10 feet from the pin. A brilliant shot. He then sank the 10-footer for an eagle, and punctuated it with a fist pump. The crowd roared with approval!
This is the Tiger Woods who has four green jackets. This is the Tiger Woods who once caused competitors to quake. For golf fans and golf journalists, this was a moment they'd been waiting for. It had been 17 months since Woods had won any golf tournament. It had been six years since his last Masters victory.
"There first needs to be a simple, declarative statement to settle something once and for all, an answer to a question that's been asked for days, if not months. The statement is this: Tiger Woods is back," gushed CBSSports.com columnist Mike Freeman, even though Woods eventually finished tied for fourth place Sunday.
"He is. It's official. He didn't win the Masters, but after a courageous, almost history-making performance, it's impossible not to declare the career of Woods reinvigorated from the waitress-chasing dead," wrote Mr. Freeman.
But is he really back?
While the front nine at Augusta were picture-perfect extraordinary, the back nine were just ordinary. One bogey, one birdie. After the flourish of the front nine, nothing to cheer about.
And that in a microcosm is the problem with Tiger Woods' game now: inconsistency. Moments of brilliance punctuated by less-than-stellar performance. Parts of his game shine, briefly. But his putting, in particular, is still not where he wants it – or where it has been in the past.
Woods finished fourth. That's where he finished last year at Augusta. He finished four shots back of the champion, South African Charl Schwartzel. In the end, it was Schwartzel who amazed, closing the back nine with four straight birdies, something no other Masters winner has done.
As much as we want to believe it, is Tiger Woods really back?