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Tiger Woods' trademark determination is back in full swing

Positioned to win the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Monday, Woods is playing with the take-no-prisoners approach that punctuated his glory days.

Bill Dwyre

January 28, 2013

LA JOLLA

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— There were a few pages still to be turned Monday in the book titled, "Here Comes Tiger Woods Again."

After an intense and gutty Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open, that book now seems publishable. Hot off the presses and coming soon.

The final chapter, of course, cannot be completed until Woods wins another major title. His next would be his 15th and would put him back in shape to get to Jack Nicklaus' record 18.

He won three titles on the PGA Tour last year, which most golf fans took as an obvious lead-in to 2013 as the year of a return to normalcy in pro golf. That would mean dominating, intimidating, look-the-devil-in-the-eye-and-never-flinch performances by the man who made that style an art form.

That's exactly what we have gotten so far this weekend along the cliffs of Torrey Pines, a place that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and provides a perfect playpen for photogenic hang gliders. Woods went forth with jaw set, took a two-shot lead into Sunday's play and expanded that to six by the end of the day. Because fog erased an entire day of golf Saturday, Woods will still have 11 holes to play Monday to finish the deal.

But barring a total collapse, or an unexpected charge from another player on a golf course that is probably too difficult to allow that, Woods will win his seventh tour tournament at Torrey Pines, or his eighth overall, when the 2008 U.S. Open is included.

That, of course, was the most recent of his majors. He won it in an 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate that actually went 19 holes. He did that on one leg. After that, things didn't go as well, as has been documented to the point of oversaturation. There was an immediate encounter with knee surgery and, in November 2009, an encounter with a fire hydrant in his driveway.

For a while, part of his fan base was feeling about him like Lance Armstrong's now feels about their once-beloved cyclist. Woods hadn't taken liberty with performance-enhancing drugs, just with the truth to his wife. Time is unlikely to heal feelings toward Armstrong. Woods seems to have a better chance.

His tour victories last year, while satisfying for him, were tightly contested. Good golf was there, not great, superhuman golf. His play in the majors was sprinkled with failed charges and fades. His driver went awry more often than a spoiled 5-year-old, and the general impression was that he wasn't quite back.

That could continue this year.

But his expected victory Monday at Torrey Pines carries with it some of the elements we haven't seen in a while. The clearest is a stubborn, uninterruptable focus.

Yet, as late as the end of his third round and the first few holes of the fourth Sunday, the elements of yet another collapse were also there.

He had never bogeyed the 18th hole here in all the tournaments he'd played. It was the hole where he made the famous 12-foot birdie putt in 2008 to force the playoff with Mediate, the putt that has been replayed several thousand times in the last four years on the Golf Channel and elsewhere. The hole, playing 570 yards, has been characterized by some as the easiest par-five hole on the tour. You would get an argument from several players, including Kyle Stanley last year, who have been bedeviled by the ridges on a slopping green that occasionally sends shots tumbling back down the bank into a pond.

Sunday on 18, Woods drove into a trap, hit it out badly into some long rough, then hit it badly from the long rough into a trap on the right. Then his sand shot stopped eight feet away and his putt missed for his first-ever bogey. Despite being in the lead, Woods was not happy.

After his sand shot, he threw his club at his golf bag and stalked toward the green. It was the kind of moment Tiger haters love and Tiger lovers hate. It was also a clear picture of a focused, driven, controlled-anger Woods, the personality that defined the game, pre-fire hydrant.

Suddenly, there was drama where there had been only dominance. The usual birdie on No. 18 would have given Woods a lead of five shots after three rounds. Instead, it was three. Brandt Snedeker and Nick Watney, both former champions and both capable of going low, were charging.

Soon, Woods, back out for the beginning of his final round, was driving the ball far left on Nos. 1 and 2 and behind a tree on No. 4. But when he still managed to play those first four holes in two under par by scrambling, including chipping in on No. 4 after chopping his second shot out of rough from behind a tree, it was hard to dispute that this was the Tiger of old.

"I've got 11 holes to play," he said, "and I've got to go out there and play them well."

The statement was firm and steely-eyed, just like he has played here. The tone said that all that mattered was winning, and if that was achieved by dominating, even better.

All signs point to Woods, 37, finishing those final 11 holes Monday as he used to finish. Not just beating the other guys, squashing them and hoping they all remember that feeling of his thumb on their heads.

If that happens, don't be surprised if 2013 becomes Tiger Time again, that the 500-pound gorilla is back in the room.

What fire hydrant?

bill.dwyre@latimes.com