CHICAGO - Once upon a time in America, watching Tiger Woods dazzle in the final round of a golf tournament was a Sunday tradition that was as routine as going to church and spending lunch with the family.
But since his last tournament win in August of 2013, at the Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio's Firestone Country Club, Tiger has been missing for roughly 237 Sundays, making our weekends a little less delightful.
He was back in a glorious return that made Sunday sports infinitely more divine.
Wearing his trademark blood-red shirt for the occasion, Tiger was in contention to win the Valspar Championship at the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort, a gorgeous golfing heaven famous for its tree-lined fairways, rolling terrains, and the treacherous closing three holes known as the 'Snake Pit.'
And just like old times, with the roar of the ferocious feline heard 'round the world, Tiger filled the gallery. According to Sean Martin of PGATour.com, the tournament had to bus people from Miami and Orlando, 6,000 additional parking spots were needed, and ticket prices spiked 35 percent.
In only his second tournament in two years, the rust was evident as he played the par-5s, with uncommon restraint. But a glimpse of the familiar brilliance was there as Tiger stalked the par-3s, highlighted by a 44-foot birdie on the 136-yard 17th hole that gave him a chance to win his 80th PGA title.
He finished nine under par and carded 70-68-67-70. He hit 31 of 52 fairways and 48 of 72 greens in regulation. It wasn't enough to beat Englishman Paul Casey's 10 under par. It just wasn't meant to be.
Still, Tiger's bridesmaid finish was significant in many ways. He earned 245 points to move up to 43 in the standings. His Official World Ranking also jumped from 388 to 149. And he pocketed $572,000 for four days of work, a tidy sum to add to the $1.4 billion he has earned since turning pro in 1996, according to Business Insider.
Most importantly, his power is back. The swing looks splendid. And the confidence is sky-high, a must in the mental arena that is golf. The drought of winning a tournament still exists, 1,659 long days and counting. Ending that inglorious streak, however, is only a matter of when not if.
THE IMPROBABLE RISE. Like most good stories, Tiger's came with a fall. And his was hard and fast and painful.
Things began to unravel in November of 2009 when the National Enquirer reported that Woods had an extended affair with Rachel Uchitel, a sexy New York "party girl" whose good looks and temple-like body can make a holy man rethink his vow of celibacy.
Soon after, a parade of women claimed to have multiple affairs with Woods, Apparently, one of the greatest golfers of all time was also a tiger under the sheets. The spate of infidelities led to his separation from wife Elin Nordegren, a nasty 2010 divorce that cost him custody of his kids - daughter Sam and son Charlie - plus a $100 million settlement.
Injuries plagued him the last few years and the past 11 months have been especially hellacious, a string of misfortunes that included an arrest for DUI (Driving Under Influence) and a fourth back surgery in four years.
A winner of 14 major championships, life is good for Tiger. He is worth an estimated $740 million. He lives in a $55 million palatial estate in Jupiter, Florida, a massive nest that was built from scratch to meet his specific needs. He flies to tournaments in his personal Gulfstream G550, a private jet that costs a cool $54 million. And he sails the seas in his $20 million yacht named Privacy.
With more money than Nepal and enough toys to invigorate his life, we wondered if Tiger, 42, would somehow be able to summon the hunger that brought him to the top of his sport. For a while, when he was in pain following those surgeries, he seemed content playing Call of Duty eight hours a day, interrupted only by quick 30-minute lunches.
We doubted him. And we were wrong. The desire to win never left Tiger. He just needed time to get his affairs in order, his mind focused, and his body healed.
And so there he was on Sunday, the meanest cat on the links, prowling under the delighfully blinding Florida sun. He came up short but his second-place feat reached so far, driving up the TV ratings and making us casual fans giddy about golf once again.
"I believe my game is progressing,".Tiger told reporters.
He was being modest. It was like calling a tsunami a harmless whirlpool.
Hey, it's only March but it looks like 2018 already has its comeback story of the year.