This day belonged to Woods, as it used to at Arnie's place.
Only two weeks ago, Woods was taken off the course at Doral in the middle of the final round with tightness in his left Achilles tendon, the same injury that caused him to miss three months last year, including two majors. It turned out to be a mild strain, and Sunday was the eighth straight day that Woods played golf — starting with a practice round last Sunday at Augusta.
LaCava called him that Sunday night at Doral, after Woods had spoken to doctors, and said "you could hear the relief."
His injuries have received more attention in the last year than the personal life crisis that cost him his marriage and corporate support. But in the last week, former coach Hank Haney's book — "The Big Miss" — was mailed out to various media outlets, another distraction for Woods. The book goes on sale Tuesday.
While it deals mainly with Haney's six years teaching Woods, it raises questions about Woods' fascination with the Navy SEALs and whether that contributed to his injuries. It also portrays Woods as self-centered and rarely satisfied, a side of him that Woods has sought to keep private for so many years.
The win at Bay Hill, his record seventh in the event, puts the chatter back on golf.
"He was a man on a mission today," LaCava said. "He was pretty jacked up. He was out there to prove himself."
Woods won against a full field for the first time since the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, 2009. Twelve days later, Woods ran his car into a fire hydrant, and revelations poured on about his extramarital affairs. He has not been the same since then, and players began to wonder if his mystique could ever return.
This was a step. A big step.
Woods renewed his reputation as golf's greatest closer, winning for the 38th time in 40 attempts when he had the lead going into the final round.
It was McDowell who took down Woods in a shocker at the end of 2010 by rallying from four shots down to beat him at the Chevron World Challenge, something long considered unthinkable. And it was McDowell, speaking for so many others on tour, who suggested last August that the red shirt on Sunday was not as intimidating as once was.
McDowell was as formidable as ever. He couldn't keep up.
The former U.S. Open champion gave Woods a big cushion on the opening hole when his approach buried so badly in the bunker that only the top half of the ball could be seen. He blasted out through the green into another bunker and made double bogey. That gave Woods a three-shot lead, and McDowell never got closer than two the rest of the way.
But he put up a good fight. McDowell took a free drop from a sprinkler head, going from the rough to the fringe, and holed a 45-foot birdie putt after Woods was already in tight for birdie.
Woods hit a towering 3-iron from 267 yards over the water on the par-5 sixth, and before he could attempt his eagle putt from just outside 15 feet, McDowell made his from 50 feet.
Woods was in total control of all aspects of his game, the final two holes of the front nine showed it. Woods hit an 8-iron from 182 yards that cleared the bank by a few yards and rolled within 4 feet for birdie on No. 8. And on the next hole, McDowell missed a 4-foot par putt to fall four shots behind.
McDowell missed three putts inside 10 feet early on the back nine — one of them for par — and then was merely along for the ride.
"He's going to be a force at Augusta," said Ian Poulter, who shot 74 and finished third.
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