- The Augusta Chronicle - Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tiger Woods teed off after 2 p.m. on Sunday, an old habit that is ingrained after 17 years on the big stage at Augusta National Golf Club.

His playing partner for 15 holes this time believes Woods looks ready to be teeing off late in the afternoon again in a week.

“It’s good to see him back,” Steve Stricker said. “And he’s so happy. He’s joking around and having a good time and he feels good about things, I can tell. He must have a lot of things in order.”

What Woods has done in the past year is restore order to the golf world, winning six times in his past 20 starts to reclaim the No. 1 ranking in the world.

“The biggest and the best story line so far this year is the re-emergence of Tiger – of dominance and I think intimidation,” said Curtis Strange, a two-time U.S. Open winner. “That’s it.”

An ad campaign that Nike launched when Woods jumped to No. 1 again after winning at Bay Hill two weeks ago ruffled a few sensitive feathers.

“Winning takes care of everything” was the oft-repeated Tiger phrase that Nike turned into a slogan.

Some contend that the Woods camp was glossing over the recent controversies in his private life. In truth, those things had already dissolved away long before Woods’ game recovered.

Anyone who’s been to a golf tournament and seen the fawning reaction of fans to Woods knows that.

Or just check out the elevated ratings when he contends.

Nothing has changed on that end.

Woods remains golf’s most singularly valuable commodity, and the best thing that can happen for the game is for him to win another major and rekindle the conversation about stalking golf’s most celebrated record of 18 major victories by Jack Nicklaus.

“I like to say I hope he gets to 17,” Strange said of Woods’ quest. “I hope he gets to 17, because golf is going to be on the front page of every newspaper in the world when he goes for that 18.”

For all the conversation that golf was boring when Woods was dominating majors and all the hopes that he’ll find a rival to push him off his pedestal, he alone is all that matters. Whether Woods beats Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson or Bubba Watson next Sunday or any other major Sunday doesn’t really matter so long as he wins.

“When Tiger’s playing well, it’s good for our game,” said Stricker, who concedes that Woods, Mickelson and McIlroy are golf’s only true needle-movers right now.

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