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Tiger's charge proves he's back, once and for all

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- 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.

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.

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Everything was present. The charge was there. He made up seven shots in eight holes, including an eagle on eight that led to the loudest roar of the weekend. Check. Some early leaders began to fall apart once Woods closed in. Check. Rory McIlroy had a bit of premature coronation, Jean Van De Velde-ing into people's lawns. Check, check, check.

McIlroy's falter was Woods’ gain. Woods caused McIlroy to panic. No question about it.

The caddy for Woods' playing partner shook Woods' hand at the conclusion of Woods' stunning round of 67 and said to Woods: "You're back."

You're back. Yes, he is. He is.

With all due respect to winner Charl Schwartzel, it was Woods who was the biggest story of the Masters despite finishing tied for fourth and four shots back with a 278.

You had to see it in person to understand. On the course, the gallery was throaty and chaotic. People could barely contain themselves as Woods made his run. Woods was fist-pumping again. His attitude was nasty again. Some of the staff at Augusta -- those who cook the food and empty the trash -- were mesmerized, sneaking a peak at the large television screen in the press room to watch Woods.

It's possible there hasn't been such emotion for a player who didn't win in the history of the Masters. It's very possible I'm totally overstating, and probably am, but this felt as impressive as Jack Nicklaus' back-nine charge in 1986, and in some weird way it was better than any of Woods' wins here.

All of this despite Woods' horrible putting. Woods three-putted six times in this tournament, but it still didn't erase what was another transcending moment for a man who has produced many. He initially went from prodigy kid to champion, from Cablanasian historical figure to eternal one, from cautionary tale to the present: a great comeback story.

Over the course of the Masters, Woods was dead, alive, dead and alive. Sometimes he was the same in the course of playing a single hole. Or sometimes during a single shot.

What Woods did off the course, in destroying his family and nearly atomizing his career, are things some never will forgive nor forget. But make no mistake: Woods doesn't give a damn if he's liked or not. In one of his interviews following the final round, his answers were short and overflowing with jerkiness. When you compare Woods' obnoxious behavior with the graciousness of McIlroy's it's easy to see why, despite Woods' tremendous efforts, he'll never be forgiven in some quarters.

Woods was asked if he felt a corner had been turned, and in typical Woods fashion, he refused to bite. "...we’ll see what happens," he said. Typical Woods. Give 'em nothing.

On the course, what Woods did on Sunday may never be forgotten. On the front, Woods made four birdies and an eagle. One of his better shots was an up-and-down out of the bunker on nine.

The problem for Woods is that he started too far back and even his superhuman efforts couldn't make up the tremendous distance.

Woods has found his distance again, and while his putting needs massive work if he's going to recapture majors, don’t doubt he can do it.

No, Woods isn't the nicest guy. He isn't the cleanest cut. He isn't the most gracious, and he still hasn't won a major in three years.

But Woods is back.

He's back.

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