Though still without a win, Tiger Woods' return to golf in 2018 has been an immense success

Tiger Woods has not won a golf tournament since 2013. Tiger Woods has had an undeniably successful 2018 season. Those two sentences seem to be contradictory, but they are also both true.

Many people look at the body of work Tiger has put together this year and think, oftentimes because of his own standards, he has not cleared an invisible bar for the 2017-18 PGA Tour season. Winning is overrated, though, for a variety of reasons we don't have time to get into today, and it's also about the only thing Tiger hasn't done in his return campaign.

Woods has 11 top-25 finishes in 17 events played. He has six top 10s and a pair of runner-up finishes. Statistically, he has been immense, too. He's fifth in strokes gained overall and seventh in strokes gained from tee to green. 

Remarkably, Woods has gone from being unable to swing a club 12 months ago to swinging a club as well or better than almost every other golfer on the planet. It might not seem crazy because of his name, but don't let the moniker fool you: This has been an extraordinary season for Woods.

Forget about wins for a minute and look at Woods' statistical profile. If you look at the top 10 on the PGA Tour this year in strokes gained, it is littered with multiple-time winners in 2018.

  1. Dustin Johnson: 3 wins
  2. Justin Rose: 1 win
  3. Justin Thomas: 3 wins
  4. Bryson DeChambeau: 3 wins
  5. Tiger Woods: 0 wins
  6. Rory McIlroy: 1 win
  7. Jason Day: 2 wins
  8. Tommy Fleetwood: 0 wins
  9. Tony Finau: 0 wins
  10. Webb Simpson: 1 win

Nobody looks at Finau's season -- one that compares nicely to Tiger's between the top 10 percentage and Ryder Cup nod -- and thinks, Man, you know who's been disappointing this season? Tony Finau. If Finau had been the one coming off his fourth back surgery into 2018, there would be a documentary made about the entire thing. But this is Tiger, and we expect so much from him.

"To make the Ryder Cup team and get back to East Lake, that was a pretty big goal at the beginning of the year and to be able to accomplish that is something I'm very proud of," said Woods after racking up his sixth top 10 of the season at the BMW Championship on Monday. "I'll represent the United States over there and also compete I guess as the top players on the Tour."

Both of those things are a big deal for anyone, much less somebody who hasn't played consistently since 2013 and started the season well outside the top 500 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

One of the problems here is that we constantly compare new Tiger seasons to old ones. That's silliness, of course, and has been for years. It's unfair to expect anyone, much less a 42 year old with a fused spine to live up to -- or even within 80-90 percent of -- the greatest golfer who has ever walked the planet.

Woods has thrived at the major championships, giving himself a shot at each of the last two late in the day during the final round, and he has elevated himself above and beyond a once-great sideshow. It's impossible to understate this -- and I thought about it a lot during the BMW Championship, where he shot 62 in Round 1 -- but the reality and the expectation for Woods right now is that he contend for events in the same way Justin Rose or Rory McIlroy or Jason Day do. Maybe not quite as often but certainly as competitively.

And this is the entire point, that an aging Woods is not just great but also competitive. It's why I handed him my "best moment of 2018" award, and it's why an overwhelming majority of his peers think he'll win another major championship

Woods has stirred those in the golf world. He has created fervor in fans and even in media members and other players. A once-transcendent golfer whose gifts were revered and who may have been the most hopeful figure in sports history has somehow turned himself inside out. Over 20 years after that historic 1997 Masters victory, Woods is still engendering hope in the world he created. That may be the most remarkable thing of all.

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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