- Associated Press - Monday, March 11, 2013

DORAL, FLA. (AP) - There is a fascination with numbers when it comes to Tiger Woods, a product of him winning so much over so many years.

He now has 76 wins on the PGA Tour, six short of the record 82 by Sam Snead, and one more than Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh combined. His two-shot victory at Doral was his 17th in the World Golf Championships. No one else has won more than three. The Cadillac Championship was the 22nd time he has taken at least a three-shot lead into the final round on tour, and he has won them all.

But there is only one number that matters.

Woods is measured by majors, and he has not made up any ground on the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus in five years.


He remains stuck on 14.

Woods stamped himself as the favorite at Augusta National, not so much because he has won twice before the Masters for the first time since 2008, but for the way he built big leads and never gave anyone else much hope. The less excitement about the way he wins, the more intimidating he looks.

Woods had a two-shot lead at the halfway point of Torrey Pines, doubled it going into the final round and stretched it to eight shots before he lost patience and interest in the Monday finish. Despite dropping four shots in the last five holes, he still won by four.

He led by at least three shots from the 11th hole Saturday at Doral until a conservative bogey on the final hole gave him a two-shot win over Steve Stricker.

“That’s how I know I can play,” Woods said. “That’s the thing. To be able to bring it out a couple times so far this year _ and then be able to close and get the Ws on top of that _ that’s nice. Any time I can win prior to Augusta, it always feels good.”

The temptation is to declare that Woods is back, though that should come with a note of caution.

It looked like he was back when he won at Bay Hill last year by five shots over Graeme McDowell, and then he tied for 40th in the Masters. It looked like he had that old magic back when he rallied to win the Memorial, and then he went into a weekend fog at The Olympic Club and didn’t crack the top 20.

And while he has won twice this year, his record includes a missed cut to start the year at Abu Dhabi, and a tie for 37th at the Honda Classic when he never broke par any of the four rounds because of two lost balls, four shots in the water and four double bogeys. He also lost in the Match Play Championship, which is not a good measure because he was 2-under par (without a bogey on his card) through 17 holes and ran into a guy (Charles Howell III) who played a little bit better that day.

How he fares at Bay Hill in two weeks _ he could go back to No. 1 in the world with a win _ will determine the degree of expectations going into the Masters.

McDowell might be the best judge of Woods among players.

He now has played in the final group with Woods three times in just over two years. McDowell saw some shockingly bad shots by Woods at the Chevron World Challenge in December 2010 when he made up a four-shot deficit against Woods and beat him in a playoff behind two clutch birdies.

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