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On The Fringe: A step for Tiger, nothing more

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

Tiger Woods hates the question, even though the answer should be simple enough. Is he back?

Woods was asked that when he ended his 749-day drought by winning his World Challenge at the end of 2011. The question came up last year after each of his wins at Bay Hill, Memorial and the AT&T National at Congressional. And it was inevitable after winning for a record eighth time at Torrey Pines.

The answer he gave Monday after a four-shot win in the Farmers Insurance Open was that he “never left.” But that's not entirely accurate because Woods was the undisputed No. 1 player in golf for the better part of five years, and now he's not. Everything he did last year, Rory McIlroy did better.

You can believe Woods when he says he is excited about the year.

Torrey Pines was his fourth win in his last 16 starts on the PGA Tour. Perhaps a better indication of his game is consistency. He has finished in the top 10 in six of his past seven tournaments around the world, which doesn't sound like that big of a deal except that he hasn't had a stretch like that since he “left” at the end of 2009.

It's tempting to make bold declarations about the rest of the year based on how Woods played last week. But, remember, it was only a week ago that Woods missed the cut in Abu Dhabi.

Still, there was something inevitable about this win beyond the location. Woods took over the tournament during a four-hole stretch in the second round when he made a 25-foot birdie putt, hit a 5-iron to 5 feet for eagle, had a two-putt birdie and then one-hopped his wedge off the flag for a birdie.

His lead went from two shots after 36 holes, to four shots after 54 holes, to six shots at the close of business Sunday with 11 holes left.

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