| THOUSAND OAKS, California
THOUSAND OAKS, California While some will argue that Tiger Woods' long-awaited return to the winner's circle on Sunday came in an unofficial 18-man event with the odds stacked in his favor, there is no doubt the former world number one is back to form.
Granted, Woods knew Sherwood Country Club better than anyone else in the elite field and he had previously won the Chevron World Challenge which he hosts four times.
Significantly, though, he played well for four consecutive rounds -- something which had largely proved elusive for him over the last two years while he struggled for form and fitness -- and his one-shot victory will have sounded an ominous warning to his peers of what they can expect of him in 2012.
The greatest player of his generation and arguably ever, a fully-fit Woods can now practise full bore for every event on his schedule -- something he has been unable to do in a long while.
"In order for me to play the way I know I can play, I had to get fully fit," the 14-times major champion told reporters after fending off fellow American Zach Johnson by a shot with a sizzling birdie-birdie finish.
"I had to get healthy to where I was strong and explosive again so I could practise. It basically starts with that. I was finally able to practice, then my practice sessions started building and building and building.
"I felt very good about my game. I got better each and every tournament. I feel pretty good going into next year."
Woods won the most recent of his 14 major titles at the 2008 U.S. Open, and he has long targeted the record 18 claimed by compatriot Jack Nicklaus.
While that goal still seems distant, Woods was delighted to be able to plan on a full 2012 campaign after missing two of the four majors last year while recovering from injuries to his left knee ligaments and Achilles tendon.
"I don't like missing major championships, I really don't," the 35-year-old American said. "I feel very excited about next year. I'm excited about the progress I've made, and really looking forward to it.
"It's going to be fun to get out there and play a full schedule, which I haven't done for quite some time. I'll get my number of events in, prepare and practise and play my normal pace getting ready for the major championships.
"I'll be trying to peak four times a year, which I haven't had the opportunity to do the last couple years consistently."
Much has changed in Woods's life on and off the course since his marriage deteriorated at the end of 2009 amid lurid revelations of serial philandering.
On August 23, 2010, he and his Swedish wife, Elin Nordegren, announced they had divorced and Woods has since successfully completed the fourth swing change of his career and he is now once again able to 'fix' during tournament play.
Earlier this year, he parted company with long-time caddie Steve Williams and on Sunday he won his first tournament with the experienced Joe LaCava on his bag, a pairing which already looks well grooved and relaxed.
In throwing off much of the old for the new, it would now seem that the old Tiger is back -- or at least a new and perhaps an improved version.
He is now aiming to emulate compatriot Jim Furyk, who ended a two-year title drought by winning the 2009 Chevron World Challenge and then followed up with a career-best season on the 2010 PGA Tour that included three victories.
"Look at what Jimmy did a few years ago," Woods said. "He won here and then had a hell of a year. Hopefully I can do the same. I feel pretty good going into next year." (Editing by Frank Pingue)