It all looked so familiar Sunday -- except when it didn't.
There was Tiger Woods on the 18th green at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. Same good-luck red shirt as always on the final day. Same enthusiastic -- even adoring -- crowds cheering his every move. Same look of grim determination on his face when he needed to concentrate.
But when he sank his final putt for a 2-under-par 70 to officially win the tournament by five strokes over Graeme McDowell and end 30 months of no wins on the PGA Tour, we saw a different reaction from Tiger than we'd seen in the past.
Instead of pure, unbridled joy on his face, we saw relief.
Instead of an exuberant fist-pump and a raucous scream to the heavens, he gave us a clenched fist and a muted shout of "Yeah!" followed by an equally under-stated "Wooo!"
But if anyone was celebrating wildly at that moment, it was Tour officials and network TV executives, no doubt giddy to see Tiger in the win column once again.
Say what you will about Tiger's fall from grace and the sex scandal that cost him his marriage and his dignity and all those million-dollar endorsement deals, too. But even with all that, he remains the biggest draw in golf and a TV ratings magnet -- NBC's audience Saturday was up 57 percent from the same day last year, when Tiger was missing from the tournament.
A Tiger Woods return to form -- especially if he wins a major and continues his assault on Jack Nicklaus' record 18 wins -- would be the best thing to happen to golf.
Johnny Miller, NBC's cranky and sometimes caustic golf announcer, proclaimed "Tiger's back!" yesterday.
We'll see if that's true. We'll see how Woods does at the Masters in two weeks. But if he is back, he'll be fun to watch -- and a much-needed shot in the arm for the sport.
Love him or hate him, Tiger Woods draws eyeballs to the game like no one else.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun