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Tiger Woods isn't back because he never left

By Kyle Porter | Golf Writer
Tiger Woods hoists the Farmers Insurance trophy for the seventh time. (Getty Images)

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Surely even the most casual fan has seen some form of the stat by now: that when Tiger Woods wins his first tournament of the PGA Tour season he goes on to have a spectacular year.

It happened six times before this year (two Mercedes Championships and four Farmers Insurance Opens), and five of those years ended with him hoisting major trophies. Twice they ended in multiple major trophies. He averages more than six wins a year in seasons such as these -- when he starts out on top.

Consider this stat, though, about the Farmers Insurance Open specifically: Before this year, Woods had completed 15 seasons on Tour as a professional. He won the Farmers Insurance Open in six of those, or 40 percent. Yet nearly half his wins as a pro -- 48 percent, to be exact -- have come in years in which he has won this tournament.

The Farmers Insurance Open (formerly the Buick Invitational) has always fallen at the end of Janurary or beginning of February. It is Woods' personal launch pad for the rest of the season. It provides him with the confidence he needs as golfers ramp up toward Augusta and the rest of the calendar year.

We often think professional athletes -- Woods in particular -- are impermeable to bouts with a lack of confidence, as if they are robots programmed to perform a certain way all the time. This isn't true. Woods has to build confidence and momentum, just like any other athlete.

Tiger himself said Monday:

I'm excited about this year. I'm excited about what I'm doing with Sean and some of the things that I've built. This is a nice way to start the year.

This thing is a process. It takes time for Woods to fully rebuild his swing (for a third time) and for him to regain a confidence he obviously lost somewhere along the way.

As a fan you can't just snap your fingers and, poof, make robot Tiger appear.

And for all the "Tiger is back" talk, where did he go? There is this notion that he owed us something, that somehow he existed above natural human things (like divorce, like a loss of confidence, like -- gasp -- injuries). This too is incorrect.

When pressed on whether or not he was "back" yesterday, Woods himself said:

Never left.

The beauty of sport is the narrative, and Tiger's, for all its twists and turns and ups and downs and the constant chase for perfection, is one of the most fascinating we've ever come upon.

I was wrong about Woods in my preseason predictions. I said he wouldn't win a major, and I said he would fire Sean Foley by the end of the season.

If he plays at all like he did at the Farmers Insurance Open he will win a major.

He knows it too.

So does everyone else. When asked Monday about Woods' performance Hunter Mahan offered this up:

I think he wanted to send a message.

Message received.

Last weekend Tiger looked like a man building on the three tournaments he captured last year, like a man finally finding peace with his swing.

Monday slow play aside, he looked like a man intent on restoring order to the ever-tumultuous golf world.

He looked like a man with Jack Nicklaus' magic No. 18 still in his sights.

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnGolf and @KylePorterCBS on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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