LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The Chevron World Challenge had all the drama and excitement that comes with an event that features Tiger Woods. There was the large crowd and exciting finish that came down to the 72nd hole, where Tiger hit a perfect wedge shot to make birdie and edge Zach Johnson by one shot at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
But it was an exhibition. The cheers and Tiger's fist pump were real, but it wasn't the real thing. The Chevron is an 18-player unofficial event, where Tiger now has five wins, four seconds, a 10th and a tie for 14th in 11 appearances at the tournament that he has hosted since it began in 1999. No wonder he won. It's his tournament.
Here at PGA West at Q-school, where for the fifth straight day players are fighting for their livelihoods and the right just to play on the PGA Tour, Tiger's first win in a little more than two years was met with cautious optimism by some of the players who know him.
"I'm sure he'll count it as a win," said Jeff Maggert, who shot a 6-under 66 on Sunday at the Stadium Course. "But 18 guys? C'mon! At this time of year, you're fat on turkey looking forward to Christmas.
"I was fortunate a few years back to get to play a lot of these end of the season events. It's a nice paycheck. But if you're not just perfect, right on your game, you're just kind of going through the motions. If you're playing well and you're in the top five, you're pressing pretty hard. But you don't have the guys from behind pressing you for four days when there are only 18 guys in the field. You're only having to beat three or four guys at the end of the day, where normally you might have seven or eight guys nipping at your heels."
It's difficult to dismiss what this does for Tiger's confidence and his legions of fans and admirers, but it's probably a smart thing to temper the adulation that we pour on him for showing us some of his old magic with two closing birdies to steal the tournament from Zach Johnson.
"For him to win this week is obviously a stepping stone for his confidence going into next year," Maggert said. "He played well on a tough golf course."
After his round Tiger said "it feels awesome" to be back in the winner's circle. We had anticipated this moment since his return to the game following the 2009 Thanksgiving night incident at his house that set in motion the demise of his marriage and temporarily stalled his career.
Yet Tiger always told us that he was on course to win again. We were being impatient. Everything he said about his new golf swing and good health were true. The new swing coach (Sean Foley) and new caddie (Joe LaCava) were going to pay dividends.
Wait, he said. I'm almost there. You'll see.
But not everybody will be convinced by his win on Sunday that his game is back from the doldrums. Sure, he might contend again -- he's already proved that after a T-4 at the Masters in April -- but Tiger's aims are loftier than what any golfer might have ever imagined.
"If he goes on and wins the Masters or something, he can look back and say that the Chevron tournament turned his confidence," said Lee Janzen, who is in a tie for 42nd after a 1-under 71 on the Sunday at the Stadium Course. "Tiger always says more positive things about his game no matter what it's like.
"He might hit four fairways and eight greens and say that he hit it great. As players we're laughing like 'Man, you hit it everywhere,' and didn't make any putts. His mindset is that he wants to hit every fairway and every green and make every putt."
The next big test to show if Tiger's reemergence is real will come in late January when he tees it up in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour. His next PGA Tour appearance remains a guessing game, but some think it could be either the Northern Trust Open or the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
At PGA West, there are 162 players hoping they can successfully get through the last day of the tournament on Monday to maybe join Tiger in the field at one of those events.
In 13th place, Maggert is one of a large group hoping to stave off the expected high winds to get a PGA Tour card for 2012. Marco Dawson took over the lead Sunday from Will Claxton, who faltered with a 76 on Sunday. The winner, who gets $50,000, won't be the main story on Monday. It will be about the guys who can play their way inside that magic number right now of 7 under, which at the moment would get you inside the top 25 and ties and on to the PGA Tour next year.
On a Monday that is to be cold and windy, the players don't expect that number to move much. On Sunday the weather was perfect.
"I had a good round today," said Maggert, who is two shots inside the number at 9-under par. "But there are still some guys out there. It's really bunched up this year because of the bad weather. So there is no room to take it easy."
Maggert can appreciate what Tiger has gone through with injuries because he's been hurt most of the year. He didn't hit balls for 10 weeks and didn't play a tournament for four and half months.
"I think that Tiger's finding that the older you get, when you take those breaks from competitive golf, it's not as easy to come back, regardless of how well you think you're playing," said Maggert, who at 47 is a few years away from the Champions Tour. "He's probably still not 100 percent. So it's tough. But he's the man.
"He's obviously playing well. It looked like he played well in the Australian Open. You really can't pay much attention to the Presidents Cup with all the funny format. People want to say that he didn't play well there. But it's really not a tournament."
Truth be told, the Chevron World Challenge was not a real tournament, but as Tiger has shown over the years, all that matters to him is what he thinks of his game and his chances to win. After his round, he was asked about the Chevron being an exhibition. Tiger said in his own courteous but snide way: "We have world ranking points."
To him it's a win, regardless of the naysayers. So he's back, for now at least.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.